ROME • Italy faced an unprecedented lockdown yesterday that left streets in the capital Rome and other cities deserted after the government extended a clampdown across the entire country in a bid to slow Europe's worst outbreak of the coronavirus.
The measures, announced late on Monday by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, widen steps already taken in the northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighbouring provinces, restricting movement and banning public gatherings.
"The future of Italy is in our hands. Let us all do our part, by giving up something for our collective good," Mr Conte said in a tweet.
The latest steps came after data showed the coronavirus outbreak continuing to spread, with 9,172 positive cases recorded as of Monday and 463 deaths, heavily concentrated in the prosperous northern regions of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto.
In Rome, cars circulated freely under a clear blue sky in the normally traffic-clogged centre and commuters could find seats in the usually packed underground system during rush hour.
Rome landmarks, including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps, and St Peter's Square in the Vatican were closed or empty, with police telling tourists to return to their hotels.
For at least the next three weeks, people have been told to stay at home if possible, moving only for reasons of work, health needs or emergencies. Anyone travelling will have to carry a document declaring their reasons and schools and universities will remain closed.
Outdoor events, including sports fixtures, have been suspended, while bars and restaurants will have to close from 6pm. Shops are allowed to remain open as long as customers maintain a minimum distance of 1m between one another.
"The whole of Italy is closed now," was the headline in Corriere della Sera, the country's largest-circulation daily.
The measures are some of the most severe controls imposed on a Western country since World War II and already there have been questions about how effectively they can be enforced across a country of 60 million people.
Restrictions in force in Italy
ROME• • Italians have been told to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel as quarantine measures were extended to the whole country to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are the main points of a government decree that brought the restrictions into effect from yesterday until April 3. Don't travel (unless it's urgent): Travel is allowed only for "urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies or health reasons".
People who have tested positive for Covid-19 must not leave their homes for any reason, while anyone with a fever or respiratory symptom is strongly encouraged to stay at home and limit social contact, including with the doctor.
Gatherings cancelled: The latest decree prohibits "all forms of gatherings in public places or sites open to the public" - going further than the rules that went into force in northern Italy.
Sporting events of all levels and disciplines were cancelled. High-level professional training for top national sports events and competitions organised by international bodies, like the Olympic Games, may go ahead without spectators. Swimming pools, spas, sports halls and wellness centres must not operate, and ski resorts were shut.
Venues shuttered: Bars and restaurants can open only between 6am and 6pm, and only if it is possible to keep a distance of at least 1m between customers. All museums and cultural venues are closed, as well as nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and casinos.
Schools, unis shut: Schools and universities are closed, and all exams cancelled. Religious institutions will stay open, as long as people can stay 1m from one another - but ceremonies like marriages, baptisms and funerals are banned.
Shortly after Mr Conte announced them, shoppers in Rome rushed to late-night supermarkets to stock up on food and basic necessities, prompting the government to declare that supplies would be guaranteed and urge people not to panic buy.
"You've also got the worry that the supermarkets will be emptied out of fear. If people keep over-buying, there won't be any water left," said building superintendent Gianni who, like many Italians, drinks bottled water. "They should make people do it with an identity card, with one case per family," he said, refusing to give his surname.
In the financial capital Milan, already under stricter controls, the situation was similar, with many shops and businesses open but far fewer people than normal on the streets.
The World Health Organisation has praised Italy's "aggressive" response to the crisis since the first cases emerged near Milan almost three weeks ago, saying it could help contain the spread of the disease from its northern epicentre.
But the economic cost has been huge, with sectors from manufacturing to tourism reporting a collapse in orders that will have an impact for months to come.
Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli said the government would approve measures worth around €10 billion (S$15.8 billion).
As well as pressing the European Union to relax its strict borrowing rules, he said the government was also working on temporarily suspending payments of bills, taxes and mortgages to ease pressure on small firms and households.