Italy has announced that the entire country will be placed under quarantine in its government’s most dramatic step yet to contain the second-largest outbreak of coronavirus outside China.
Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, imposed restrictions from Tuesday on the movement of the whole of the country, a population of over 60m people. Italians have been instructed to leave their houses only for urgent health or work reasons.
On Monday the total number of cases rose to 9,171, including 463 dead and 724 recoveries, up from just over 7,000 cases on Sunday as infections continued to rise rapidly.
Schools and universities will be closed across the peninsula and public gatherings will be banned until April 3. The emergency measures are being imposed after the number of cases jumped substantially over the past two days, overtaking South Korea as the largest outbreak outside China.
Under the new rules Italians will be able to travel to work and shop for food, and leave their houses for medical treatment, meaning businesses will be able to stay open. All citizens will have to sign a self-declared document to present to the police and the military to explain their movements. Anyone who is judged to be breaking the measures faces fines or imprisonment for three months. The measures will mean that Italy’s Serie A football championship will be suspended, along with all other sporting events.
“There will no longer be a ‘red zone’ — the whole of Italy will be a protected area. We have to avoid moving around other than for emergencies or essential work reasons within designated areas,” Mr Conte said at a press conference on Monday evening. He said Italians travelling abroad would not face restrictions.
“Our habits must change now: we all must give up something for the sake of Italy . . . We have adopted a new decision based on the assumption that there is no more time.”
Mr Conte said the large strain that the outbreak was placing on the healthcare system had hastened the need to take extraordinary measures across the whole country.
“The numbers tell us that we are having a large growth in people in intensive care and, unfortunately, the deceased. We must do it immediately and we will only succeed if we all work together and adapt to these stricter standards.”
After the Italian announcement, the UK’s Foreign Office said in a statement: “We have amended our travel advice to recommend against all but essential travel to Italy …Anyone who arrives from Italy subsequent to Italian government decision should now self-isolate for 14 days.”
The measures for the whole of Italy have been imposed after, early on Sunday morning, Mr Conte’s government announced that swaths of the north, centred on the prosperous region of Lombardy, would be placed under quarantine conditions.
By extending social distancing measures, which will come into effect on Tuesday, the government removes the logistical confusion which resulted from its attempt over the weekend to isolate an area containing 16 million from the rest of the country. Trains continued to run between the north and south, while roads and airports remained open — illustrating the challenge of enforcing any blockade in a developed European economy.
On Monday six inmates were killed in a riot at an Italian prison, and in another jail guards were taken hostage, as unrest spread among inmates over measures approved by the government to contain the virus, including limiting visits from families and friends.
During a television interview Francesco Basentini, head of the prison administration, said three inmates had died in a jail in the northern town of Modena, while three others had died after they were taken away from the facility.