Italy will expand the lockdown of the Lombardy region to the entire country, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Monday as Italy's case count surged, making it the country with the most COVID-19 cases outside of China.
People throughout the country of 60 million should not travel other than for work or emergencies, Conte said. He added that all public gatherings will be banned and sporting events suspended. The decision was made to protect the most vulnerable people in the country, he said, and the measures will take effect Tuesday and last until April 3.
"The right decision today is to stay at home," Conte said. "Our future and the future of Italy is in our hands. These hands have to be more responsible today than ever before."
The nationwide lockdown is an expansion of quarantine measures rolled out over the weekend that applied to an area of the country that encompassed about 16 million people.
Schools and universities all over the country will remain closed until April 3, he said, but public transit will remain operational. All schools in the country were previously closed until March 15. He also said all restaurants and bars across the country will have to close at 6 p.m.
The announcement marks the most extensive efforts taken by a government outside of China to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"We don't have any time. The numbers are showing that there has been a significant growth in infections, people in intensive care and deaths," he said. "Our habits have to change right now. We must give things up for Italy."
Italian officials previously announced a lockdown of the Lombardy region, which is the part of the country hardest hit by COVID-19. The drastic expansion of the measures to encompass the entire country come after nationwide COVID-19 deaths jumped by 97 on Monday to 463.
Italy also reported a surge of 1,807 confirmed cases nationwide, bringing the total to at least 9,172 confirmed cases, which is the largest daily increase in Italy in terms of absolute numbers since the contagion first came to light on Feb. 21.
While the spread of the virus is slowing in China, where it originated in December, it's picking up pace across other parts of the world, including Italy. World Health Organization officials said Monday it's reassuring that the virus appears to have been controlled in China and other countries such as Singapore. However, the virus is now present in more than 100 countries around the world and global cases have surpassed 100,000.
"It is in our hands. ... In many countries, it will get worse before it gets better," said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of WHO's emergencies program. Roughly 93% of the global cases are concentrated in four countries: China, Korea, Italy and Iran, WHO officials said. "Absolutely, we see a light at the end of the tunnel, but how quickly we get there depends on what countries do."