Italy Imposes Lockdown Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Italy Imposes Lockdown Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Italy has put 50,000 people in ten northern towns on lockdown in an effort to contain Europe’s first major coronavirus outbreak, amid fears the virus could spread across the continent.

This week, the number of coronavirus cases in Italy rose from 152 on Sunday to 219 by Monday, with about half of those cases in the northern region of Lombardy. At the same time, Italian officials confirmed two more coronavirus deaths, bringing the national total to six, with a further 26 patients in intensive care. The two who died were from the towns of Caselle Landi and Castiglione d’Abba, just southeast of Milan. 

Police and military forces have been deployed to ensure that only those with special permission are able to leave or enter towns under lockdown; schools have been shut, and trade fairs and soccer matches cancelled. Officials, meanwhile, have yet to pinpoint the origin of the outbreak. 

For those barricaded in the dozen towns around the two main clusters of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak in Lombardy and Veneto, the prospect of two housebound weeks has been proving grim. 

“This wasn’t a very exciting place to begin with,” said Andrea Casalis, a resident of Vo’Euganeo, “since we can’t go to the bar, there’s no much left to do.”

Neighbouring countries reacted with similar caution to the recent spike in cases. In Lyon, France, authorities stopped a bus from Milan and confined the passengers inside after suspicions of a coronavirus case onboard. Austria has issued a travel warning for affected places across the border, suspending train services on Sunday as passengers from Italy were tested.

The foreign ministries of Ireland, Hungary and Croatia have similarly advised against travel to Italy’s north, and Croatia’s education ministry has recommended that all school trips to Italy planned for the coming month be cancelled. 

Concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy have stretched as far a Mauritius, where 40 passengers on an Alitalia aeroplane from Rome were told they were only allowed to disembark if they went into local quarantine- this despite none of the passengers complaining of symptoms. Alitalia says it is working to bring those refused entry back to Italy “immediately.” 

Travel warnings and bans this week coincide with the midwinter school holiday, during which many Italians are travelling. 

“These rapid developments over the weekend have shown how quickly this situation can change,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides declared in Brussels, “we need to take this situation of course very seriously, but we must not give in to panic, and, even more importantly, to disinformation.”

Thus far, there has been no reintroduction of border controls inside the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone, and the European Commission says it is not currently considering travel suspensions. “There are no general border controls. Right now we don’t think that is the way forward,” an Austrian diplomat told The Guardian this week, “if we do have a confirmed case, then we will check that again.”

A mission from the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to visit Italy today to assess the situation. 

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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