Italy Expands Quarantine Measures Nationwide To Stem Spread Of Coronavirus | WGLT

Italy Expands Quarantine Measures Nationwide To Stem Spread Of Coronavirus

Mar 9, 2020
Originally published on March 10, 2020 10:30 am

The Italian government has announced extraordinary measures to contain the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday declared the entire country a "red zone," meaning people should stay home except for work and emergencies.

The move expands the emergency measures already in place in northern Italy, which is where most of the more than 9,000 confirmed cases are.

As of Monday, 463 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported through the country.

In a televised address, Conte said that the rising number of cases and people being hospitalized required introducing even more drastic measures than those taken over the weekend.

By Sunday, the movements of nearly a quarter of Italy's population had been restricted as the government moved to contain the respiratory virus in the north, including all of Lombardy and 14 provinces.

Conte's speech was short on details, but it served as a rallying cry for the nation to cooperate with officials and follow the restrictions in place.

He urged people to take precautions to safeguard their health, and he introduced a new slogan for citizens to live by: "I am staying home. Italy is a protected zone."

Italy has pledged $8.5 billion to help the economy weather the emergency.

The Rome region has ordered quarantine for all those arriving who've been in outbreak areas in the past two weeks. Violators face three months in prison.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

There are more than 9,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy. At first, the government set travel restrictions in the north of the country, but now they have extended those restrictions to include the entire country. Italy's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, made the announcement last night. He said people should stay home, except to go to work and for other emergencies. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is covering this from Rome. She's with me now. Hey, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi there, Noel.

KING: So what does this mean for people's lives?

POGGIOLI: Well, it's going to be drastically different. This is probably the most draconian measure a Western country has taken, certainly in peacetime. Italians are social people, and now they're going to have to hunker down. This is what Conte told the nation last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: He said, "our habits must change and change now. We all have to give up something for the good of Italy."

The main goal is to keep people from gathering in groups, so all museums, cinemas, theaters, gyms are closed through April 3. Soccer matches are suspended. Schools and universities are closed. Bars and restaurants will be open only until 6 p.m. Malls and supermarkets are closed on weekends. And basically, the freedom of movement from one town to another will require signing a police form self-certifying that you are traveling with one of only three justifications - work, health or emergencies. And violators can go to jail for three months or have to pay a fine of more than $200.

Now, Conte was particularly focused on young people, who tend to gather in and outside of pubs in what's known as the movida, a collective after-dinner happy hour. Movidas are banned, and several rap singers and influencers are appealing to young people to stay home with the hashtag #iorestoacasa - I'm staying home.

KING: OK. There you go - everyone getting involved. So let me ask you something. You said there's going to be penalties for people who are found violating this. How does Italy plan on enforcing that? Are you seeing, like, police in the streets?

POGGIOLI: Well, we - I haven't seen this yet in Rome, but we have to look at what happened in the northern regions, where the severe restrictions were imposed over the weekend. And yesterday, at the Milan train station, for example, police and soldiers were stopping people who wanted to get on trains and asking for their signed police forms. Most of them didn't have it, so they had to, you know, get them there and do it. And there have been newspaper reports of some women - some people who did, you know, violate the bans.

Then there was this scene in a town in Liguria, which was not subject to restrictions but where the municipality sent police cars into residential neighborhoods. And the announcement had a very ominous, wartime kind of vibe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: The loudspeaker was saying, "warning, attention, coronavirus emergency. We call on citizens to stay home as much as possible."

KING: That is eerie. How are people reacting? Are they worried? Are they OK?

POGGIOLI: Yeah, there's a lot of anxiety. But, you know, if we look at generally how Italians have reacted to the first round, they've gotten the message. They've taken it seriously. They're very much following the rules. There was one big exception - there was a lot of riots in numerous prisons, protesting suspension of family visits.

But overall, I'd say there's been a huge consensus. The opposition is on board. Everybody's heeding the scientists' and doctors' warnings that the quarantine is the only way to curb the spread of the virus. I think this is - you know, Italy could be a laboratory for the future. Other countries may have to deal with this in the same way.

KING: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, thank you.

POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.