Italy has locked down the northern Lombardy region and 14 nearby provinces, including the financial capital Milan and tourist hotspot Venice, in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday.
According to a government decree that goes into effect until April 3, unprecedented restrictions will be taken as preventive measures, impacting some 16 million people in the north, which accounts for over one-six of the country's population.
The decree came after the Civil Protection Department confirmed a total of 5,883 coronavirus infections in Italy on Saturday, with its largest daily increase of more than 1,200 since the outbreak began in the north of the country on Feb. 21.
The death toll from the virus in Italy has risen to 233, and the northern regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto account for 92 percent of recorded deaths.
Residents of the lockdown areas are "obligated to avoid any kinds of movement, whether in or out of the region," Conte told a press conference.
"It is strongly recommended that people with any respiratory symptoms or fever ... stay in their homes, limit social contact as much as possible, and contact their doctors," he said, adding that those who tested positive "are absolutely forbidden from leaving their homes."
The decree also shuts down museums, theaters, cinemas, night clubs, places of worship, ski resorts, gyms, swimming pools, schools, universities and other public places in the region.
"Bars and restaurants are allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. as long as owners ensure that consumers observe a distance of personal security of at least one meter," Conte said, warning that venues will be shut down if owners violate the restriction.
The decree also calls on employers to put workers on leave, and suspends leave for medical and technical staff "whose activities are required," with hospitals under pressure over the virus.
"We are facing a national emergency," Conte said. "We have two objectives: to contain the spread of the infection ... and to avoid overburdening our hospitals."
Conte said Italy is producing more intensive care machines and equipment. "Today we have already had 320 new intensive care machines, and we are ready to produce 500 such machines per month."