One of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and a close friend of Israel has now become the European epicenter for COVID-19, the new coronavirus; but its government took a bold step this weekend in a desperate bid to contain the epidemic.
Some 16 million residents of northern Italy – fully 25 percent of the country’s population – were placed on lockdown early Sunday as the government worked to get control of the virus rampaging through its provinces.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at 2 am Sunday after a late-night meeting by government officials. Italian Army Chief of Staff Salvatore Farina is one of the latest officials to test positive for the virus; he told reporters he felt well and was under self-quarantine.
For the first time, Pope Francis delivered a live-streamed prayer on Sunday in order to prevent the formation of the massive crowds that gather before his window at the Vatican each week. Speaking on the video link, and seen by the crowd on a huge screen outside in the square, the pontiff said he was “close through prayer” with those who are suffering from the coronavirus.
The total number of infections in Italy rose to 7,375 from 5,883 on Sunday, according to the country’s Civil Protection Agency. The number of people who have died from the virus more than doubled in one day, skyrocketing from 133 to 366, officials said.
From the start of this week until April 3, the residents of Lombardy and 14 other provinces – Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio, Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, Treviso and Venice — have been ordered not to leave their towns or their homes unless it is strictly necessary.
The new measures greatly complicate not only the economy but also religious, industrial and medical life — the bustling city of Milan, with two airports, is the main city in the province of Lombardy, as just one example.
Schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other venues have closed across the country.
“We want to guarantee the health of our citizens,” the prime minister said in making the announcement of the lockdown. “We understand that these measures will impose sacrifices, sometimes small and sometimes very big.”