The boisterous hum of Rome dwindled to a whisper and police patrols kept people apart in cafés as Italy enforced an extraordinary, sweeping lockdown Tuesday in hopes of not becoming the next epicentre of the spreading coronavirus epidemic now that life in China is edging back to normal.
Infections in Italy topped the 10,000 mark with 10,149 cases – more than anywhere else but China – and the number of deaths from the virus rose to 631, from 463 a day earlier, Italian Civil Protection authorities said.
Travel and social restrictions that were extended across Italy illustrated how the virus and the broad disruptions it is causing are sweeping westward from China, where the outbreak began.
Police across the country patrolled cafés to make sure owners kept customers 1 metre apart during daylight hours and then enforced a strict 6 p.m. closing order.
“It’s bad. People are terrorized,” said Massimo Leonardo, who runs a market stall. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 116,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 4,000 have died.
By encouraging many of Italy’s 62 million people to stay home and further drying up what was left of the country’s already battered tourism industry, the lockdown could increase the likelihood of a recession, dealing another blow to reeling global markets.
Italy’s economy, the third-largest of the 19 countries that use the euro currency, relies heavily on industries requiring the physical presence and proximity of workers: tourism, manufacturing and retail.
Shops, cafés and restaurants were ordered to close at 6 p.m., a seismic restriction in a country that prizes its gastronomy, luxuries and café culture. Giorgio Armani announced the closing of his hotel, restaurant and boutiques in Milan, citing “preventative measures adopted so far to safeguard the health of the employees and customers.”
“I’ll do whatever they tell me to do,” Rome florist Stefano Fulvi said. “If I have to close, I’ll close.“
Italy also found itself increasingly sealed off as other countries sought to keep infections contained.
Malta and Spain announced a ban on air traffic from Italy. British Airways and Air Canada suspended all Italy flights. Austria barred travellers from crossing the border without a medical certificate, Slovenia closed its border with Italy and Albania banned Italy air and ferry traffic.
But in China, the diminishing threat prompted President Xi Jinping to visit the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of its outbreak, on Tuesday and declare: “We will certainly defeat this epidemic.”
It was the latest sign that China is edging back toward normal after weeks of extreme quarantine measures. China reported just 19 new infections Tuesday, down from thousands each day last month.
“Things are slowly returning to normal,” said Yang Tianxiao, a finance worker in Beijing, where the city government is gradually easing restrictions.
But in growing swaths of the globe outside China, virus-related disruptions were increasingly the new normal. More than 100 countries – more than half of the United Nations’ membership – now have confirmed cases. Panama and Mongolia, which borders China, were among the latest. Congo and Burkina Faso also confirmed their first cases, increasing the number of infections in Africa to 105 in 11 countries.
The virus reached into the corridors of power. In the United States, several senior politicians were self-quarantined and, in Spain, a leading member of a far-right party tested positive for the virus. At least two top European military commanders also tested positive after a conference on an U.S. military base in Germany, and the commander of U.S. Army Europe isolated himself in case he also was exposed.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the city of New Rochelle, a New York suburb and the biggest known cluster of U.S. coronavirus cases, would have a “containment centre” where houses of worships and large gathering places would be closed for two weeks.
National Guard troops will help clean surfaces and deliver food in the area, a 1.6-km radius around a point near a synagogue, Mr. Cuomo said.
In Washington State, where 19 of its 24 deaths have been connected to a Seattle-area nursing home, Governor Jay Inslee announced new rules for screening health care workers and limiting visitors at nursing homes.
Seattle’s King County, the epicentre of the Washington outbreak, reported an additional 74 cases and two deaths on Tuesday, with statewide numbers rising to 267 cases and 24 deaths. Experts believe the number of actual cases is much higher.
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