Italy locks down huge swath of the wealthy north

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Italy has imposed a lockdown on a huge swath of its prosperous north that is home to 16m people as part of draconian measures to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the eurozone’s third-largest economy.The restrictions on movements in the region of Lombardy and its capital Milan include a ban on entering or exiting certain areas of the country, and the closure of museums, gyms, schools, universities and ski resorts, according to a decree signed by Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, in the early hours of Sunday.As well as Lombardy, the measures will affect more than a dozens other provinces in neighbouring regions, including the cities of Parma, Modena, Padua and Venice. They are expected to be in place until at least April 3.There have been more than 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy since the contagion came to light in the wealthy north on February 20, and at least 233 people have died. According to a statement released by Italian Civil Protection, close to half the cases registered are in Lombardy.“We are facing a national emergency . . . without underestimating it, we have chosen transparency, we are acting with lucidity, courage and determination,” said Mr Conte. “We want to contain the spread of the contagion and avoid overloading the hospitals.”
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However, there are growing concerns about the intense strain that the virus response is placing on Italy’s healthcare system as well as fears that its spread could push the country into recession. “We are now being forced to set up intensive care treatment in corridors, in operating theaters, in recovery rooms. We have emptied entire hospital wards to make space for people in critical condition,” Antonio Pesenti, chief of the Lombardy regional crisis response unit, told Il Corriere della Sera newspaper. “One of the best health systems in the world, in Lombardy is a step away from collapse.”Alberto Cirio, president of the adjacent northern region of Piedmont, said on Sunday that he had tested positive for coronavirus, despite the fact that he had no symptoms.Coronavirus has spread rapidly in Italy since the first cluster of cases began to appear in a group of towns south of Milan. Those areas were rapidly put under lockdown, but the area facing similar restrictions has now been hugely expanded to cover millions of people and some of the most economically productive areas of the eurozone. When coronavirus was largely confined to China, Italy quickly moved to ban direct flights to and from the Asian nation. But travellers from Italy are now facing bans of their own, as well as periods of quarantine and self-isolation, around the world, as other countries seek to limit the spread of the disease.The move to ramp up restrictions on travel within Italy came after Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, said he had tested positive for coronavirus, and was staying at home.“Doctors told me I tested positive,” Mr Zingaretti said in a video posted on Facebook on Saturday. “I feel good but I will have to stay at home for the next days . . . and follow all the protocols.” Mr Zingaretti also said all the people he had been in contact with in the past few days were being contacted for checks.In the past weeks he has regularly visited the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, and other hospitals in the region where patients with coronavirus are being treated.Roberto Gualtieri, Italy’s economy minister, this week announced a €7.5bn stimulus package to tackle the impact of coronavirus on the country’s economy and health system. Mr Gualtieri also told the European Commission that the Italian government would raise this year’s deficit goal to 2.5 per cent of national output from the current 2.2 per cent target.Attilio Fontana, president of Lombardy, said that while the tough measures were aimed at containing the virus, “the draft decree is, to say the least, ‘messed up’ and requires clarification from the government to allow citizens to understand what can be done or not”. Luca Zaia, president of nearby region of Veneto, said he was against any “red zone”.“I am against curfew. What they are doing internationally — describing us as the new Wuhan, is rather scandalous. We have been the most careful in diagnosing,” he said, referring to the Chinese city where the virus began.Carlo Canepa, 30, a communications professional who lives and works in Milan, said he was shocked at news of the lockdown. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to see my family,” he said.Elisa Vieri, a 27-year-old Italian student on holiday in Portugal, was supposed to fly back to Milan on Sunday, but does not know if she will be able to return home as planned. “I’m constantly refreshing the webpage of the airline I’m flying with, but to no avail so far. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.Read more about the impact of coronavirusSubscribers can use myFT to follow the latest ‘coronavirus’ coverage

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