Italy’s government took the most drastic measures outside of China to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, announcing that it would lock down much of its northern region. The rules restrict the movement of approximately 16 million people.
Italy is facing the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with 5,883 cases and 234 deaths as of Sunday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Per the New York Times, the country’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said that Italy is facing a national emergency. He stated that the measures were “very rigorous,” but necessary to contain the outbreak and ease the burden on the strained Italian health care system.
The restrictions will be in place until April 3. CNN reports that those who do not adhere to the measures will face up to three months in prison and a €206 (roughly $230) fine.
“This is a moment of self-responsibility,” Conte said.
The prime minister said there would be an “obligation” to avoid movement in and out of the northern territory, one of Italy’s largest regions and a critical part of the economy.
People that live in the locked-down territory, which includes renowned cities like Milan and Venice, will also not be allowed to move freely. Conte said that people will need special travel permissions to travel in or out of the locked-down regions for family or work emergencies, adding that police will stop travelers and ask them why they were leaving the quarantined areas.
Italy also announced new measures with effects beyond the northern region, including countrywide closures for museums, movie theaters, discos and betting parlors. These venues had previously been closed in northern Italy to contain the outbreak. Conferences for doctors and other medical professionals are not allowed to take place.
Funerals and cultural events are also banned. In public, the rules require people to be at least one meter away from each other at sporting events, bars, churches and supermarkets. Although churches can remain open, they cannot hold mass.
When news of the new restrictive measures leaked to the press on Saturday, hundreds of people in Italy’s north left the region to avoid being trapped, POLITICO Europe reported.
Despite the drastic measures taken by the Italian government, there were indications that the virus is spreading out of the northern region. On Saturday, Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the governing coalition’s Democratic Party, said he had been infected with COVID-19. Zingaretti is based in Rome.
“Well, it’s arrived,” Zingaretti said in a Facebook video. “I also have the coronavirus.”