Italy's prime minister announced a sweeping coronavirus quarantine early Sunday, imposing restrictions on the movement of about a quarter of the country's population in a bid to contain a widening outbreak.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree after midnight that imposes restrictions to the movement of people in the region of Lombardy and in at least 15 provinces, home to more than 16 million people. The measures will be in place until April 3.
"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," Conte said. "Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues."
Around the world, more and more countries were bracing for a big increase in virus cases. Western countries have been increasingly imitating China — where the virus first emerged late last year, and which has suffered the vast majority of infections — by imposing travel controls and shutting down public events.
After the city of Venice canceled its cherished Carnival and governments warned citizens against travel to Italy, the epicenter of Europe's outbreak, the country is facing a possible recession. Hotel occupancy rates in the lagoon city are down to 1%-2%.
"The surface of the Grand Canal is like glass because the boats that transport merchandise are not there. On the vaporetti (water buses), there are only five or six people," Stefania Stea, vice president of the Venice hoteliers association, said.
Italy on Saturday saw its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the outbreak began in the north of the country on Feb. 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.
There was chaos and confusion in the northern Italian city of Padua in the Veneto region as word spread late 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. Travelers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitizing gel shoved their way on to trains.
Before Conte signed the quarantine decree, Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia Romagna region, said parts of the decree we're confusing, and he asked the premier for more time to come up with solutions that were more "coherent."