What is happening?
Late on Monday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“There won’t be a red zone,” Conte told reporters. “But there will be Italy, a whole protected zone.”
People will be allowed to travel only if there are “urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies or health reasons”, he said.
The measures (read more about them here) include the suspension of sport events and ceremonies such as funerals and weddings. People are being asked to keep a distance of one metre (3.3 feet) from one another. Museums, cinemas and theatres are all closed.
Airports remain open and many flights are continuing, but those who do want to travel will need to fill in a document explaining their reasons for doing so and carry it with them. Those who lie face a jail term of up to three months or a fine of 206 euros ($225).
The new national lockdown is an extension of a previous quarantine introduced over the weekend affecting the country’s north and 16 million people. Italy first placed about 50,000 people in the north under quarantine about two weeks ago.
Why is this important for Italy?
Italy is the worst-hit country after China, the global epicentre of the outbreak.
So far, there are 9,172 confirmed cases and 463 deaths in the country.
Massimo Galli, head of infectious disease at Milan’s Sacco hospital, said the number of cases in Lombardy last week – the worst-hit region in the country’s north – was similar to the number seen in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, in late December.
There are also concerns about Italy’s death rate from the virus, which is running at 5 percent nationwide and 6 percent in Lombardy, higher than the 3 to 4 percent estimates in most other countries.
Despite calls from officials and doctors urging people to stay home, many have continued to visit beaches and socialising as normal. This apparent lack of discipline prompted the government to take tougher measures.
“I’m aware of how serious this is, but I am forced to intervene even more decisively to protect all of us, and especially those who are more weak and vulnerable,” said Prime Minister Conte.
Experts are also worried about the virus spreading south, where the infrastructure to cope with an outbreak is weaker.
“If Lombardy trudges, imagine what could happen in the south,” Filippo Anelli, president of the National Federation of the Orders of Doctors, told local media.
How are Italians reacting?
There has been a rush of panic buying across the country, despite the government’s attempts to reassure people that grocery shopping will be allowed and that supermarkets will remain open and be regularly stocked.
People are buying potatoes, biscuits, milk, sugar and kilos of flour, reported La Repubblica.
Despite some criticism that the government’s measures were exaggerated, there is growing support for the strict action.
Even before the nationwide lockdown, influential figures such as singer Tiziano Ferro and Oscar-winning actor Paolo Sorrentino, took to social media to promote the #iorestoacasa (I stay home) hashtag, urging people to stay home and stick to the new rules.
Meanwhile, there are increased fears Italy’s health system will not cope.