Italy Locks Down Millions As Its Coronavirus Deaths Jump

A general view of Duomo square after the Italian government imposed a virtual lockdown

MILAN - Italy ordered a virtual lockdown across much of its wealthy north, including the fi­nancial capital Milan, in a drastic new attempt to try to contain a outbreak of coronavirus that saw the number of deaths leap again sharply on Sunday.

The unprecedented restric­tions, which aim to limit gather­ings and curb movement, will impact 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.

Only people with proven, work-related reasons, or health problems will be able to move in and out of the exclusion zones. Leave has been canceled 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,” said Conte.

“We have to limit the spread of the virus and prevent our hos­pitals from being overwhelmed,” he told a news conference called in the early hours of Sunday.

Italy has been hit harder by the crisis than anywhere else in Europe so far and Sunday’s latest figures showed that starkly.

The number of coronavirus cases jumped 25% in a 24-hour pe­riod to 7,375, while deaths climbed 57% to 366 deaths. It was the larg­est daily increase for both read­ings since the contagion came to light on Feb 21.

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 theaters, in recovery rooms. We’ve emptied en­tire hospital sections to make space for seriously sick people,” he said.

The Milan stock exchange, whose all-share index has plunged 17% since the crisis broke, was scheduled to open normally on Monday but one trader said he expected “a violent sell-off” as markets digested the lockdown of Italy’s economic heartland.

The World Health Organisa­tion said it fully supported the ac­tions taken by Italy, which were in line with its guidelines for con­taining the spread of the virus.

But with the Italian economy already on the edge of recession, some local politicians pushed back against the measures, which leaked out before the regions were consulted.

The head of Veneto, Luca Zaia, complained he had not been properly consulted and was un­happy that three provinces in his region, including Venice, had been included in the clampdown.

“We do not understand the ra­tionale of a measure that appears scientifically disproportionate to the epidemiological trend,” he wrote on Facebook.

CHURCHES, MUSEUMS, SPORTS EVENTS CLOSED

On Saturday, health officials had expressed alarm at the appar­ent lack of concern in the general public, as fine weekend weather attracted large crowds to the ski slopes outside Milan. But streets were notably quieter than normal as northern cities woke up to the news on Sunday.

“What is happening in my city is worrying me and it is also sad­dening, because Milan is a lively city and to see it like this today is almost a defeat for me,” said resi­dent Lucia Navone. “I never would have thought this would happen.”

Qatar announces closure of schools, universities over coronavirus

Qatar on Monday an­nounced a nationwide closure of schools and universities amid fears over the coronavi­rus outbreak, adding that the closure will come into effect on March 10.

In a statement carried by the state-run Qatar News Agency on Monday, the Qatari government said that the suspension would take place "until further notice".

The move came a day after Qatar's Ministry of Health said it is temporarily banning the entry of travellers from 14 countries as the number of cases in the Gulf country rose to 15.

In a statement, the ministry said the ban covers Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lan­ka, Syria and Thailand.

"The decision affects all indi­viduals intending to enter from these countries, including visas upon arrival, those with a resi­dence or work permit, and tempo­rary visitors," the statement read.

Qatar Airways, the country's national carrier, had already sus­pended flights to and from Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries.

Meanwhile, Qatari nation­als and residents were called on to avoid all but essential travel at this time.

The latest cases in Qatar were all foreign residents and had been placed in complete isolation, the ministry said.

"All those who were sharing the accommodation were sub­jected to quarantine, including all people who came in contact with the patients, to make sure they are healthy and that no infection was transmitted to them," it added.

The ministry said it is sub­jecting the patients' accommoda­tion to a thorough examination and tracing the three individuals' movements.

The 12 previous cases all in­volved Qatari citizens evacuated in late February from Iran, a coun­try that has emerged as regional outbreak hotspot.

During a news conference on Sunday, Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, director of public health at the ministry, said the current situation in the Gulf country does "not require closing schools given that the spread of the disease in Qatar remains low".

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