Italy Announces Quarantine Affecting a Quarter of Population

March 8, 2020 Updated: March 8, 2020
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BEIJING—Italy’s prime minister announced a sweeping coronavirus quarantine early Sunday, 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.

Shortly after midnight, 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 14 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.”

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Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks during a press conference held at Rome’s Chigi Palace, following the Ministers cabinet meeting dedicated to the corinavirus crisis, on March 4, 2020. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images)

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 1 percent-2 percent.

“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.

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A man wearing a protective mask walks past the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) in Venice, Italy on Feb. 28, 2020. (Claudio Furlan/Lapresse via AP)

Italy on Saturday 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 late Saturday evening 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.

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A woman, wearing a face mask, pulls a trolley at Milan’s Central Station in Milan, Italy, on March 8, 2020. (Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

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.

Grand Princess cruise ship circles off the coast of California
A California National Guard helicopter from the Moffett Federal Airfield based, 129th Rescue Wing deliver coronavirus test kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco, Calif., on March 5, 2020. (California National Guard/Handout via Reuters)

“Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined,” U.S. 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 Saturday, 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.

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Egyptian health workers scan people’s body temperatures at Cairo International Airport on Feb. 1, 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)

While many scientists say the world is clearly in the grips of a pandemic—a serious global outbreak—the World Health Organization isn’t calling it that yet, saying the word might spook the world further.

The virus is still much less widespread than annual flu epidemics, which cause up to 5 million severe cases around the world and up to 650,000 deaths annually, according to the WHO.

In Iran, fears over the virus and the government’s waning credibility has become a major challenge to leaders already reeling from American sanctions. More than 1,000 infections were confirmed overnight, bringing the country’s total to 5,823 cases, including 145 deaths.

The government declared a “sacred jihad” against the virus: Wearing gas masks and waterproof fatigues, members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard sprayed down streets and hospitals with disinfectants.

Iran-Virus Outbreak
A woman has her temperature checked as she enters the Palladium Shopping Center, in northern Tehran, Iran, on March 3, 2020. (Vahid Salemi/AP Photo)

South Korea, the hardest-hit country outside China, reported 93 new cases on Sunday morning, taking the total to 7,134, with 50 deaths overall.

Countries outside Asia stepped up efforts to control the outbreak.

Saudi Arabia banned spectators at any sports competitions starting Saturday. The NBA and British sports teams are considering doing the same.

“I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd,” Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James said. “That’s who I play for.”

Spain deployed police to enforce a quarantine. Austria confiscated 21,000 disposable masks that a Turkish company smuggled aboard a tour bus, seeking to profit from soaring demand. Turkish police, meanwhile, threatened legal action against social media accounts accused of spreading false virus information.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging older adults and people with severe medical conditions to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds.

Ambulances are seen in a staging area at the North Kirkland Community Center, which is a short drive from the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, in Kirkland
Ambulances are seen in a staging area at the North Kirkland Community Center, which is a short drive from the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, in Kirkland, Wash., on March 4, 2020. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Most people who get the virus have mild cases, though the elderly face greater risks. Among the many new cases in Europe on Saturday was a doctor in Slovenia who was in contact with more than 100 people in a nursing home after a ski trip to neighboring Italy.

Global markets were enjoying a weekend respite from market panic, but the world economy faced mounting damage. China, the world’s biggest trader, reported Saturday its exports tumbled 17.2 percent from a year earlier in January and February.

Most people in Wuhan, China, still are barred from leaving their homes.

By Joe McDonald and Angela Charton