Faced with the coronavirus epidemic, the Italian government struck hard on Sunday by deciding to subject the country's economic lungs and its capital Milan to strict quarantine.
In this large territory in the north of the country which stretches from Milan to Venice and where more than 15 million Italians live (i.e. a quarter of the population), museums, sports halls, swimming pools, nightclubs, games rooms and pubs must remain closed, according to the decree signed overnight by the head of government Giuseppe Conte.
The people of Milan, alerted on Saturday evening by leaks in the Italian media, resigned themselves to a slow life: the streets were uncrowded and quiet on Sunday, according to an AFP journalist on the spot.
“Stay at home as much as possible,” urged the mayor of Milan Beppe Sala in a message posted on social networks. “We must change our lifestyle, we must avoid unnecessary contact as much as possible”, adds the councilor, who speaks of “incalculable losses” for the economy.
Milan, headquarters of the Italian Stock Exchange, has just under 1.4 million inhabitants, and ten million people live in Lombardy, the industrial heart of the peninsula. “It will be difficult for the economy and tourism, which will be very affected,” said AFP an elegant 79-year-old pensioner, Ambrogio Bellini, who is walking near the cathedral.
– “Heart of the north” –
The mayor's call seems to have been extended: no extraordinary crowd at the central station, very calm. Airports are also operating normally. AFP journalists dispatched to the French-Italian border did not notice any more significant flows than usual, and the controls remain standard, without taking the temperature.
On the Austrian side, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Peter Guschelbauer estimated that “many people (Austrian) from the red zones had returned” in Austria, quoted by the Austrian press agency APA.
The Italian media, none of which had anticipated such a draconian measure, reported the ambient shock in their Sunday news. “The virus closes the heart of the north,” headlined the daily La Stampa. “Half of Italy is closing,” said Il Messaggero.
With 233 deaths, Italy is in second place behind China for the number of coronavirus-related deaths, and in third place behind China and South Korea for the number of positive cases, nearly 6,000 to date.
– “Pure madness” –
Since Sunday morning, movement has in principle been strictly limited to entering and leaving quarantined areas.
“The police will be able to demand justification” from the citizens on the move, warned the head of government Giuseppe Conte when presenting his decree in the middle of the night. Only those meeting “duly verified professional requirements and emergency situations for health reasons” are authorized.
In quarantined areas, bars and restaurants can remain open provided they respect the safety distance (one meter between two people), otherwise they must close.
The containment measures concern the whole region of Lombardy, but also the provinces close to Piedmont (north-west), Emilia-Romagna (center-north), the Marche region (center-east), and Veneto ( northeast).
In Venice, where empty tourist gondolas ripple sadly along the quays, Vincenzo Tosetti, a 34-year-old actor, testifies: “Many of my friends fled, especially from Milan. They packed their bags and left last night” . “We will see if the Italians have a sense of responsibility and I must say that so far the answer is rather no …”
These leaks are “pure madness (…) they take with them the contagion”, commented the professor of virology Roberto Burioni, a respected scientist.