Italy to Lock Down Milan Region in Bid to Contain Coronavirus Outbreak

The Italian government is set to dramatically restrict movement and activity for a quarter of its population, or about 16 million people, according to a draft decree seen by Bloomberg.

The decision to lock down the Milan region and several other northern areas, is the latest step to fight Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. They come as cases surged to 5,883 with 233 deaths, and on the day Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of one of the two major government parties, announced he had contracted the illness.

The measures, set to come into force Sunday and last until April 3, will stop anyone from entering or exiting the most-affected areas, while movement inside will be allowed only for “non-deferrable” business or health reasons, the draft said. Skiing, public events, religious ceremonies and work meetings will be suspended, and schools, museums, swimming pools and theaters will close.

Bars and restaurants will have to make sure people keep at least a meter apart or they’ll be shut. The draft specifies that failing to respect the measures is a criminal offense, and might lead to imprisonment. Police and the army will be responsible to ensure that containment measures are respected.

With Italy’s economy already at risk of recession before the outbreak, the crisis has all but paralyzed business activity in Lombardy, which accounts for a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product, and the rest of the north, Italy’s economic engine.

The restrictions apply across Lombardy and also in 11 provinces around cities including Venice, Modena, Parma, Rimini and Treviso. Nightclubs will be closed as well as pubs and betting halls, with bans on parties and public events. Newspaper Corriere della Sera reported earlier on the draft, which is expected to be approved by the government late Saturday or on Sunday.

The government decided on Thursday to double emergency spending to 7.5 billion euros ($8.4 billion) to help cushion the economic impact of the virus. It’s also calling up 20,000 doctors, nurses and medical personnel to help deal with the outbreak. Fallout from the spread is slamming Italy’s key tourism industry at a time when the country was already teetering on the brink of recession.

The European Commission’s top economic officials approved Italy’s spending plans, saying in a letter to the government in Rome that its stimulus plans won’t be factored in when assessing the country’s compliance with the European Union’s fiscal rules.

One case was diagnosed in the Vatican — the tiny walled city-state in central Rome that is home to Pope Francis and “emeritus” Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis will not celebrate Sunday’s weekly Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace as he usually does, the Vatican said in a statement.

Francis will instead hold the event from the library in the palace, to avoid the risk of the coronavirus spreading among people queuing for security checks to access St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican said. The event will be relayed on giant screens and by streaming.

— With assistance by Daniele Lepido, Tommaso Ebhardt, Alessandro Speciale, and Sonia Sirletti

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