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Italy wakes up to deserted streets in unprecedented virus lockdown

SICILY: A deserted car boarding area is pictured at the ferry terminal in Messina, Sicily yesterday as Italy imposed unprecedented national restrictions on its 60 million people to control the deadly coronavirus. – AFP

ROME: Italy woke up on to deserted streets in an unprecedented lockdown yesterday after the government extended quarantine measures across the entire country in a bid to slow Europe’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus. The measures, announced late on Monday by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, widen steps already taken in the rich northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighboring provinces, clamping down on movement and closing public spaces.

“The future of Italy is in our hands. Let us all do our part, by giving up something for our collective good,” Conte said in a tweet, encouraging people to take personal responsibility. For at least the next three weeks, people have been told to move around only for reasons of work, for health needs or emergencies or else stay at home. Anyone travelling will have to fill in a document declaring their reasons and carry it with them.

Large gatherings and outdoor events, including sports, have been banned, while bars and restaurants will have to close from 6 p.m. Schools and universities will remain closed until April 3. “The whole of Italy is closed now,” was the headline in the Corriere della Sera newspaper. As day broke, the streets of Rome were erily much quieter than normal, with cars circulating freely under a clear blue sky in the normally traffic-clogged centre, reflecting the atmosphere in the financial capital Milan, already under stricter controls.

Rome commuters could easily find seats in the usually jam-packed underground system during the morning rush hours. People wearing masks in the streets of the capital was more widespread than before. Shortly after the measures were announced, shoppers in Rome rushed to late-night supermarkets to stock up on food and basic necessities, promoting the government to declare that supplies would be guaranteed and urging people not to panic buy.

Shops are allowed to remain open as long as customers maintain a minimum distance of a metre between them. The measures came after the latest data showed the coronavirus outbreak continuing to rise, with 9,172 positive cases recorded as of Monday and 463 deaths, the second highest-level in the world after China. The World Health Organization has praised Italy’s “aggressive” response to the crisis, since the first cases emerged near Milan almost three weeks ago but the economic cost has been huge.

On Monday, the Milan stock exchange dropped over 11% and Italy’s borrowing costs shot up, reviving fears that an economy already on the brink of recession and struggling under the euro zone’s second-heaviest debt pile could be plunged into crisis. Conte has already promised “massive shock therapy” to help deal with the immediate economic impact of the crisis and yesterday, Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli said the government would approve measures worth around 10 billion euros. – Reuters

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