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Italy’s PM locks down north


Italy’s PM locks down north

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MILAN – Italy ordered a virtual lockdown across much of its wealthy north on Sunday, including the financial capital Milan, in a drastic new attempt to try to contain a rapidly growing outbreak of coronavirus.

The unprecedented restrictions, which aim to limit gatherings and curb movement, will affect some 16 million people and stay in force until April 3. They were signed into law overnight by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The new measures say people should not enter or leave Lombardy, Italy’s richest region, as well as 14 provinces in four other regions, including the cities of Venice, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini.

Conte said nobody would be allowed to move in or out of these areas, or within them, unless they had proven, work-related reasons for doing so, or health issues. Leave was cancelled for health workers.

“We are facing a national emergency. We chose from the beginning to take the line of truth and transparency and now we’re moving with lucidity and courage, with firmness and determination,” Conte told reporters in the middle of the night.

“We have to limit the spread of the virus and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” he said.

Italy has been hit harder by the crisis than anywhere else in Europe so far, with the number of coronavirus cases jumping more than 1 200 in a 24-hour period – the biggest daily rise since the epidemic began in the country two weeks ago. The latest total of cases stood at 5 883 with 233 deaths.

Antonio Pesenti, head of the Lombardy regional crisis response unit, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper the health system in Lombardy was “a step away from collapse” as intensive care facilities came under growing strain from the new cases.

“We’re now being forced to set up intensive care treatment in corridors, in operating theatres, in recovery rooms. We’ve emptied entire hospital sections to make space for seriously sick people,” he said.

The Milan stock exchange, which has seen a 17 per cent drop in its all-share index since the crisis broke in February, was scheduled to open normally on Monday but one trader said he expected “a violent sell-off” as markets digest the lockdown of Italy’s economic heartland.