“It's a slap in the face for Lombardy,” raged the region's president Attilio Fontana, a member of the far-right opposition League party, who has accused Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of using out-of-date figures to designate the new risk zones.
Lombardy, which includes Milan, was designated “high-risk” on Wednesday, along with fellow northern regions Piedmont and Val d'Aosta, as well as Calabria in the south, under a new colour-coded scheme drawn up by Rome.
Southern regions Puglia and Sicily were designated orange, or medium-risk, and will also face further restrictions.
The rest of Italy was yellow, including the hard-hit region of Campania.
All of Italy is facing a new evening curfew from Friday.
There was widespread confusion and anger after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the classification
on Wednesday night, with many wondering how regions with some of the lowest case numbers – Calabria and Valle d'Aosta – had ended up as red zones, while regions with many times more, including Campania, Lazio and Veneto were classed as only moderate risk.
The regional classification however isn't made on case numbers alone, but on a complex system of 21 criteria
established by Italy's Higher Health Institute (ISS).
And with little official explanation given to the public as to how the system works, some critics insist the decision was a political one.
The opposition League party accused the centre-left government of locking down regions run by the opposition while going easy on those run by the left – insisting Campania, run by the Democratic Party (PD), should not be a yellow zone.
Valle d'Aosta President Erik Laveva told the regional assembly: “Yesterday I reiterated that it is important to have clarity about why we are in a red zone, in part to give clarity to the citizens.”
“Numbers are nice because they don't lend themselves to interpretation,” he added.
Calabria's acting governor, Nino Spirlì, said the region would challenge the government's decision to make it a red zone.
Some on the already quiet streets of Milan, Italy's financial and fashion capital, said a new regional lockdown would change little.
“My customers are very scared, very scared,” hairdresser Francesco Puccio told AFP. “Last week I only had two clients per day, sometimes even just one, so there's no real advantage for me in staying open. There's nobody out and about anymore, the offices are empty,” he said.
But anger and concern about the system was not confined to red zones.
Those in orange zones also questioned the fairness of the decisions, while some in yellow zones voiced concern that their hard-hit local areas required tougher rules.
Campania alone is currently reporting around 4,000 new cases per day, many of them concentrated in the city of Naples. However, the region was classified a lower-risk yellow zone.
Luigi de Magistris, the mayor of Naples complained that the region should be a “red” zone insisting hospitals were near collapse. He said the government's maths “does not add up”.
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Piedmont head Alberto Cirio, from the centre-right Forza Italy party, also questioned why the decision over which regions to lock down “was taken based
on data which was at least 10 days old”.