Italy has banned any movement inside the country and closed all non-essential businesses as it desperately seeks to stem the spread of coronavirus following a horror weekend in which more than 1,400 people died.
The escalating measures, which leave the government short of remaining population control levers, came as the rate at which Covid-19 spread around the world continued to accelerate, growing by more 130,000 cases in the past four days.
Italy, the country firmly at the centre of the global crisis, exceeded China’s death toll last week despite having fewer confirmed infections and a far smaller population. More than 5,500 Italians are testing positive every day, with the average age of those dying 78.5.
Supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and post offices are among businesses that will be permitted to keep trading under the new rules. On Sunday, Italians were also banned from moving across municipalities other than for “non-deferrable and proven business or health reasons or other urgent matters”, the health ministry said.
Police squads in Rome were checking documents and fining those outside without a valid excuse. People who were out shopping were forced to wait in line at the entrance to make sure the store was filled with only a handful of shoppers at a time. Joggers were asked to limit their runs to laps around the block.
People out for a walk were fined if they broke the rules and wandered into a park or stopped to take pictures of historic scenes of a city without any people.
The Italian prime minister told the country it was facing its gravest moment since the second world war and that all businesses and factories that were not “strictly necessary, crucial [or] indispensable” would close until 3 April.
“We will slow down the country’s productive engine, but we will not stop it,” Giuseppe Conte said late on Saturday. His comments came shortly after it was announced that 793 Italians had died from coronavirus, the most in a single day anywhere in the world.
Another 651 Italians died on Sunday, bringing the overall toll to more than 5,400. Nearly 60,000 people across the country are confirmed to have the virus.