Italy extends coronavirus lockdown to include entire country in unprecedented move

Italy's Prime Minister says lockdown measures to contain the spread of coronavirus are being extended to the entire country.

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, Monday, 9 March, 2020.

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, Monday, 9 March, 2020. Source: AAP

The Australian government is weighing its response after Italy declared a countrywide travel ban for its 60 million-strong population due to the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,800 people worldwide.

"This is obviously a very significant development," federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday.

"It just reflects the uncertainty and the seriousness of the spread of the coronavirus."

The federal government continues to advise travellers to Italy to "exercise a high degree of caution" and cautions they will be subject to health screening upon their return.

Movement across Italy will be sharply restricted across the country, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Monday, in an unprecedented clampdown aimed at beating the coronavirus in Europe’s worst-affected country.

Mr Conte told reporters that measures introduced just two days ago in much of the north were no longer sufficient after a jump in deaths tied to the highly infectious disease, and said the entire nation had to make sacrifices to stop its spread.

“The right decision today is to stay at home. Our future and the future of Italy is in our hands. These hands have to be more responsible today than ever before,” Mr Conte said.

Italy’s 60-million people will only be able to travel for work, medical reasons or emergencies until 3 April.

All schools and universities, which were closed nationwide last week until 15 March, will now not reopen before next month.

A doctor in a coronavirus pre-triage tent in Palermo, Italy.
A doctor in a coronavirus pre-triage tent in Palermo, Italy. Source: AAP

The contagion only came to light near Italy’s financial capital Milan on 21 February. Since then there have been some 9,172 confirmed cases and 463 deaths, putting the national health system under massive strain.

Mr Conte said any public gatherings, including in the open air, would be forbidden and announced that all sports events, including Serie A soccer matches, would be suspended.

'Threat of a pandemic has become very real'

The death toll in Europe from the coronavirus topped 500 on Monday, after Italy recorded a sharp rise in fatalities.

The number of Europeans killed by the virus now stands at 511, including 21 in France, 16 in Spain, four in Britain, three in the Netherlands, two in Switzerland and two in Germany, AFP figures show.

The World Health Organization warned on Monday there was now a "very real" threat that the new coronavirus outbreak will become a pandemic, but stressed the virus could still be controlled.

After global COVID-19 infections passed the 100,000-mark, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that "the threat of a pandemic has become very real."

But he stressed, "even if we call it a pandemic, still we can contain it and control it.

"It would be the first pandemic in history that can be controlled," he said. "We are not at the mercy of the virus."

He pointed out that the situation varied widely in the 100-odd countries that have so far registered cases, with 93 per cent of all cases being located in just four states.

"Whether it is pandemic or not, the rule of the game is the same: never give up," he said.

He said 79 countries had registered fewer than 100 cases, and more than half of those had seen fewer than 10 infections.

At the same time, in China, where more than 80,000 cases have been recorded since the outbreak began there in December, the country appears to be "bringing the epidemic under control," Dr Tedros said.

"More than 70 per cent have recovered and have been discharged," he pointed out.

4 min read
Published 10 March 2020 at 8:04am
Source: Reuters,SBS