Italy braced Thursday for an extended lockdown in attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as the death toll in Italy looks set to match that in China.
Italy has recorded a total of 2,978 deaths, after a record 475 more fatalities were reported on Wednesday — the highest official one-day figure in the world.
China reported no new infections for the first time on Thursday, and Italy seems on course to overtake its 3,245 fatalities later in the day.
It will take days or weeks yet before Italy sees the numbers of infected and deceased peak and stop rising after the government mplemented the quarantine measures, experts said.
While the far-reaching measures mean people in Italy are confined to their homes most of the time and almost all shops and businesses have had to close, a poll found overwhelming support for the government's decision.A poll published in La Repubblica newspaper found 96 percent of all Italians viewed the closure of most business and all schools and public institutions “positively” or “very positively” and just four percent said they were opposed.
While the measures are not as extreme as those taken in China's quarantine of Wuhan's Hubei province, they still seemed unimaginable for a Western democracy until this month.
“Use your common sense and act with utmost caution,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italians on Thursday. “We are not underestimating anything and always acting based on the worst-case scenario.”
Medical staff at a temporary emergency facility outside a hospital in Lombardy. Photo: AFP
Conte has layered on the measures in segments and some of the strictest ones – such as the closure of all shops except for grocery stores and pharmacies – had been due to expire next Wednesday.
But the Italian leader said on Thursday morning that there was no question that everything “must be extended beyond the original deadline”.
This also means schools will not re-open on April 3 and working parents will have to find ways to look after their kids while working from home for many more weeks or months.
“At the moment, there are no other far-reaching restrictive measures being considered,” said Conte.
“But if our prohibitions are not respected, we will have to act.”
Italy is imposing 206-euro ($222) fines for anyone found wandering the streets without a valid reason, such as grocery shopping or getting to and from work.
Police in various Italian cities have been reading instructions over megaphones for everyone to “stay home and maintain distance” from each other.