Italy's prime minister announced a sweeping coronavirus quarantine today, restricting the movements of about a quarter of the country's population in a bid to limit contagions at the epicenter of Europe's outbreak.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting about 16 million people in the country's prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 15 provinces in neighboring regions. The extraordinary 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 country is facing a possible recession. Hotel occupancy rates in the lagoon city are down to one - two per cent.
"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 today 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 today 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 were confusing, and he asked the premier for more time to come up with solutions that were more “coherent.”
Around the world, passenger-packed cruise ships confronted their own virus problems.
Officials in California were deciding Saturday where to dock the Grand Princess cruise ship, after 21 tested positive for the virus. There is evidence the ship now idling off San Francisco was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of almost 20 cases during an earlier voyage.
“Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined," US Vice President Mike Pence said. "Those who will require medical help will receive it.” President Donald Trump said he would have preferred not to let the passengers disembark onto American soil, but would defer to medical experts.
In Egypt, a cruise ship on the Nile with more than 150 aboard was under quarantine in the southern city of Luxor after 12 positive tests.
Also today, the port of Penang in Malaysia turned away the cruise ship Costa Fortuna because 64 of the 2,000 aboard are from Italy. The ship had already been rejected by Thailand, and is now heading to Singapore.
And in Malta, which reported its first case of the virus Saturday, the MSC Opera ship agreed not to enter the Mediterranean country’s port amid local worries — even though there are no infections suspected on board. The ship continued to Messina, Sicily, where passengers were allowed to disembark after officials reviewed medical records.