Coronavirus: Northern Italy to quarantine 16 million people

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Lombardy and 10 other areas in north sealed off in aggressive new effort to tackle Europe's worst outbreak.

More than a quarter of Italy’s population have been placed in mandatory quarantine as the government attempts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Italy’s prime minister has said at least 16 million people are now in mandatory quarantine in Lombardy region and also in 14 provinces.

Italy has witnessed a surge in new coronavirus cases, prompting new measures to stave off the outbreak. Rome has enacted sweeping measures to limit mobility and assembly in the region of Lombardy and 14 nearby provinces.

The lock-down will last until early April.

The dramatic escalation in the country’s efforts to contain the new coronavirus will close gyms, pools, museums and ski resorts.

The move represents the most sweeping effort outside China to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and is tantamount to sacrificing the Italian economy in the short term to save it from the ravages of the virus in the long term.

By taking such tough measures, Italy, which is suffering the worst outbreak in Europe, sent a signal that restrictive clampdowns at odds with some of the core values of Western democracies may be necessary to contain and defeat the virus.

“We are facing an emergency,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in announcing the government decree in a news conference after 2 a.m. “A national emergency.”

He said: “For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory.

“Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.”

There were chaos and confusion in the northern Italian city of Padua in the Veneto region as word spread late on Saturday evening that the government was planning to announce the quarantine.

Packed bars and restaurants quickly emptied out as many people rushed to the train station in Padua.

Travellers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of hand sanitiser gel shoved their way on to the local train.

Italy on Saturday saw its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the outbreak began in the north of the country on February 21.

In its daily update, Italy’s civil protection agency said the number of people with the coronavirus rose by 1,247 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 5,883.

Another 36 people also died as a result of the virus, taking the total to 233.

Sweeping measures

The decree instructed businesses to implement smart working processes to allow employees to work from home. All schools, museums, night clubs, gyms and swimming pools are to be closed. Civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals, are to be suspended.

Bars and restaurants would be permitted to open from 06:00 to 18:00 local time (0500 to 1700 UTC) as long as they could ensure a minimum distance of 1 meter (3 feet, 3 inches) between clients.

The measures are to remain in place until April 3. Those who violate the restrictions could face fines and up to three months in jail.

A vast majority of those who died in Italy after contracting the virus has been people in their 70s and 80s, and many had serious underlying conditions, according to health experts. Italy has one of the world’s most aged populations.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Conte urged Italians to obey the new rules in order to protect the “health of our grandparents.”

EU fails to help Italy in coronavirus fight

Rome’s requests for face masks and medical gear have been met with silence.

EU countries have so far refused Italy’s plea for help fighting coronavirus, as national capitals worry that they may need to stockpile face masks and other medical gear to help their own citizens, officials and diplomats said.

The refusal so far to volunteer help for Italy, which requested face masks through the EU’s civil protection mechanism, highlights the urgency for Brussels as it seeks to orchestrate a coordinated response to the epidemic, and to make use of its still relatively limited powers during public health emergencies compared to the broader authority of member states.

Indeed, Rome’s hopes for assistance are now pinned on the Commission’s triggering of an emergency joint procurement process that allows the EU to purchase urgent medical supplies and to distribute those resources where most-needed across the Continent, even if capitals are reluctant to help each other.

There have so far been nearly 3,500 coronavirus deaths recorded worldwide. The majority have been in China, where the virus originated in December.

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called the spread of the virus “deeply concerning” and urged all countries to make containment “their highest priority”.

How can I protect myself?

Coronaviruses are passed on by droplet infection, the virus multiplies in the throat. From there the pathogens can be expelled from the body faster than from the lungs, for example by sneezing, coughing or blowing. In this way SARS-CoV-2 spreads onto surfaces where it  comes into contact with mucous membranes and infects others by smear infection via the hands.

What concrete measures can individuals undertake to protect themselves and others from a droplet infection?

  • Keep a distance of one to two meters from anyone who is infected.
  • Wash your hands regularly and carefully (at least 20 seconds with soap, including the wrists).
  • Avoid shaking hands and hugging people
  • Develop self-protection reflexes: Press elevator buttons with your knuckle instead of your fingertip.
  • Avoid busy places and events. Set priorities.
  • Avoid touching your own face or the faces of friends and relatives.
  • Do not touch the mucous membranes of your mouth, eyes and nose with your fingers.
  • Put on gloves if necessary. Wash or change them daily.
  • Do not sneeze in your hand. Use your elbow or a tissue instead.
  • Dispose of used tissues quickly.

Breathing masks offer little protection to healthy people. When worn, the masks become moist through air intake. After just 20 minutes their protective barrier deteriorates. Masks should be reserved for medical staff.

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