More than 60 million people in Italy are to be put under lockdown after the country’s government extended emergency measures across the entire country in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, announced the drastic measures at an evening press conference late on Monday, during which he told people to “stay at home” and banned all public gatherings.
“There is no more time. I will take responsibility for these measures. Our future is in our hands,” he told reporters.
Italy is struggling to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of Covid-19, which has claimed 463 lives and infected 9,172 people.
“I am going to sign a decree that can be summarised as follows: I stay at home,” he said. “The whole of Italy will become a protected zone.”
Under the decree, all public events will be banned, cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs closed, and funerals, weddings and sporting events cancelled – including Serie A matches. All schools and universities will remain closed until 3 April.
The number of deaths from coronavirus in Italy rose from 366 to 463 on Monday, according to the head of the civil protection agency. The total number of cases in Italy rose by 24% to 9,172, and of those originally infected, 724 had fully recovered. A total of 733 people were in intensive care against a previous total of 650.
“The figures show we are experiencing a serious increase in infections, an increase in people hospitalised in intensive care – and an increase, unfortunately, in deaths. We need to change our lifestyle. We need to change it now. That’s why I have decided to adopt these hard measures,” said Conte.
Checkpoints on motorways, toll booths, train stations and airports are expected to be introduced on Tuesday.
Those who have to leave their region or their cities out of serious necessity can do so only if they have self-certification stating that they must cross the borders for compelling business reasons, health reasons, or because they have to return home.
On Sunday, the whole of Lombardy, including the financial capital of Milan, and 14 provinces across the worst-affected northern regions, were shut down until 3 April, as Italy experienced its highest day-on-day rise in deaths from coronavirus.
The country was plunged into chaos after details of the plan were leaked to the press, sending thousands into panic as they tried to flee.
Thousands crowded train stations or jumped into their cars after a draft decree banning people from leaving or entering the region was revealed by Corriere della Sera late on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Lombardy were beginning to run out of beds. Health authorities were struggling to find space and beds in intensive care units. To manage the emergency, the sick are being placed in operating rooms and hospital corridors.
“I am very concerned,” said Prof Massimo Galli, the director of infectious diseases at Sacco hospital in Milan. “The pressure on hospitals in Lombardy these days is enormous. I am very, very worried about the impact the virus will have on our health system.”
There are about 500 available beds for intensive care in Lombardy’s public health sphere, with another 160 in private care facilities. Despite a massive effort to locate additional space there are still not enough.