Taking cues from China, Italy has ordered a lockdown of 16 million people in the country’s northern regions to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.
The sweeping quarantine, announced early Sunday (March 8), will close schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other public venues across the country.
Furthermore, anyone living in Lombardy and 14 other central and northern provinces will need special permission to travel.
Milan, Italy’s financial hub, and Venice are also affected.
"We want to guarantee the health of our citizens. We understand that these measures will impose sacrifices, sometimes small and sometimes very big," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said of the new measures, as reported by the BBC.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy jumped from more than 1,200 to 5,883 on Saturday, representing the largest number of coronavirus infections in Europe.
The quarantine affects about a quarter of Italy’s population. It will be enforced until April 3rd, reports say.
Under the new provisions, people are not allowed to enter or leave Lombardy, where the main city of Milan is located.
The same restrictions apply to 14 provinces: Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, Treviso and Venice.
As of early Monday (March 9), Italy had 7,373 COVID-19 cases resulting in 366 deaths – the most fatalities outside of mainland China, which has the highest number of coronavirus-related cases.
While the lockdown applies to northern Italy only, other measures are impacting the rest of the country, such as the temporary suspension of university classes, theatre shows, sports events, weddings and religious ceremonies.
Some flights in and out of Italy’s quarantined regions went on as scheduled on Sunday – planes arrived at Milan's Malpensa and Linate airports, although some flights were cancelled, the BBC reports.
However, Italy's flag carrier, Alitalia, has announced that it will suspend all flights to and from Milan’s Malpensa Airport starting Monday.
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