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Italy on Lockdown in Response to COVID-19

MAR 11, 2020 | JONNA LORENZ
Italy imposed a dramatic nationwide lockdown this week—closing schools, public spaces and tourist attractions, canceling events, and restricting travel until at least April 3—as COVID-19 continues to take a mounting toll on the country.

More than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and 631 deaths were confirmed in Italy as of Tuesday evening. The country recorded the highest singled-day death toll from the coronavirus Tuesday, when 168 deaths were confirmed, according to reports.

The lockdown began Sunday in northern Italy, where Antonio Pesenti, a hospital official in the Lombardy region, described a “a tsunami of patients,” with intensive care being set up in corridors and the region’s health system “one step from collapse,” CNN reported.

Hundreds of acute-care beds were added in the Lombardy region, where more than 80% of beds are dedicated to COVID-19 care, Bloomberg reported. Providers in some areas are being forced to prioritize care based on age and suspend care to other patients to focus on the virus. The country also is grappling with a shortage of doctors, and the government announced plans to hire 20,000 new health care workers.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that the “red zone” was expanding to the entire country, affecting its 60 million residents.

Contributing to the severity of the situation in Italy is the aging population of the country, which has the world’s second-highest proportion of seniors, The Washington Post noted. Most of those who have died as a result of the virus were in their 70s or older, and Italy has seen a mortality rate higher than the average 3.4% global mortality rate from the disease, LiveScience noted.

Bars and restaurants were ordered to close by 6 p.m., residents in Italy were advised to remain at least 3 feet apart, and a decree aimed to limit travel to only that necessary for business and health purposes with checks from police. Defying the lockdown could result in fines of $234 and up to 3 months in jail. Visitors were banned from prisons, sparking riots at 22 facilities resulting in 11 inmate deaths.

The government suspended mortgage payments during the crisis and pledged financial bailouts to curtail the economic fallout.

The outbreak officially reached Italy on February 20, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country. But Flavia Riccardo, a researcher in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Italian National Institute of Health, told Time magazine that the virus probably had been circulating in Italy before the first case was confirmed, adding that it emerged during peak influenza season.

The virus may have spread undetected for some time, contributing to the high number of cases, Time noted, citing reports of a high number of pneumonia cases at a hospital in northern Italy before the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed.

The situation quickly evolved to include the largest number of cases outside of China, where the outbreak originated. As the number of cases quickly rose, the country took measures to respond to the threat. Earlier this month, Italian Minister of Education Lucia Azzolina announced that all schools and universities in the country would be closed and activities suspended from March 5 through March 15.

Efforts by the Italian government to prevent the virus began even before the first reported case there, including a task for established by the Italian Health Ministry a month before the first confirmed case and becoming the first European country to enforce a ban on flights to and from China.

The nationwide lockdown announced Monday is the strictest measure against the disease outside of China.

“We all must give something up for the good of Italy. There is no more time,” Prime Minister Conte said while announcing the lockdown.

To track the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States and abroad, visit the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.
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