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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