About 15 million people, a quarter of the Italian population, were locked down Sunday as the government takes drastic steps to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that is sweeping the globe.
The quarantine zones include the regions around Venice and financial capital Milan, while cinemas, theatres and museums will be closed nationwide.
The measures in place until April 3 bar people from entering or leaving vast areas of northern Italy without good reason, according to a decree signed by the prime minister and published online.
Italy has seen the most deaths from the COVID-19 disease of any country outside China, where the outbreak that has now killed more than 3,500 people and infected over 100,000 worldwide began in December.
Areas in Italy, shaded red, under lockdown for coronavirus
As recorded deaths in Italy soared to 233 on Saturday, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’s Angelus prayer — normally delivered by the 83-year-old pontiff from his window — would be broadcast as a livestream.
Italy has the world’s second-oldest population after Japan, according to the World Bank, and elderly people appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from the virus.
Retired doctors are being recruited to bolster the Italian healthcare system, while civil protection officials say Lombardy region is having trouble finding beds in hospitals.
The Italian measures come as Argentina on Saturday became the first Latin American country to report a fatality from the virus that has affected 95 nations and territories.
Colombia, Costa Rica, Malta, the Maldives, Bulgaria and Paraguay have also announced their first cases. The number of infections in South Korea passed 7,000 on Saturday — the highest in the world outside China.
The WHO said the efforts of China and other countries were “demonstrating that spread of the virus can be slowed” with the path of the disease even “reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities”.
The Scotland-France women’s rugby match scheduled for Saturday in Glasgow was postponed after a Scottish player tested positive for the coronavirus, Scottish Rugby said.
Organisers of the Barcelona marathon on Saturday postponed the event, which had been scheduled for March 15, until October 25.
And in Canada, the International Ice Hockey Federation called off the Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, which had been set to run from March 31 to April 10.
Saudi Arabia reopened an area in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, after suspending the year-long umra pilgrimage during which worshippers circle the Kaaba seven times.
However, access to the Kaaba is still blocked and the Grand Mosque is being sterilised.
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