Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree early Sunday that will put millions of people across northern Italy under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus.
The sweeping move puts the entire Lombardy region, as well as 14 other provinces, under travel restrictions, and is one of the toughest responses implemented outside of mainland China to get the Covid-19 epidemic under control.
The announcement came after Italy saw a dramatic spike of 1,247 confirmed novel coronavirus cases on Saturday, the Civil Protection Department said in a statement.
The country has now recorded 5,883 cases and 233 deaths, the most fatalities outside mainland China and the biggest outbreak in Europe.
Announcing the new measures, Conte said: “There will be an obligation to avoid any movement of people who are either entering or leaving” the affected areas. “Even within the areas moving around will occur only for essential work or health reasons,” he said, according to Reuters.
While the lockdown only applies to northern Italy, other measures will be applied to the entire country. These include the suspension of schools, university classes, theaters and cinemas, as well as bars, nightclubs, and sports events. Religious ceremonies, including funerals, will also be suspended.
Other countries in Europe are also struggling to contain outbreaks as cases continue to rise.
On Saturday, France’s general director of health, Jerome Salomon, confirmed 16 dead and 949 infected nationwide, and Germany now has 795 cases. The United Kingdom confirmed a second death from the novel coronavirus on Saturday, while 206 people have tested positive, British health officials said in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on “all countries to continue efforts that have been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus.”
In a statement, the WHO said: “Allowing uncontrolled spread should not be a choice of any government, as it will harm not only the citizens of that country but affect other countries as well.”
Meanwhile in China, search and rescue efforts continued on Sunday for survivors from the collapse of a hotel that was being used as a coronavirus quarantine center.
The hotel, in the southeastern city of Quanzhou, in Fujian province, came down Saturday night with 80 people inside. Four people died, one person remains in critical condition and four others are seriously injured, according to China’s Ministry of Emergency Management.
“We are using life detection instruments to monitor signs of life and professional breaking-in tools to make forcible entries. We are trying our utmost to save trapped people,” said Guo Yutuan, squadron leader of the Quanzhou armed police detachment’s mobile unit.
The building’s owner is in police custody, according to state news agency Xinhua and an investigation is underway.