Chaos in northern Italy over vague coronavirus lockdown orders

Chaos in northern Italy over vague coronavirus lockdown orders

Confusion has taken hold across northern Italy, —the region hardest-hit by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 — after the country’s most reputable newspaper on Saturday published a draft of a lockdown order before it had been decreed by the government.

Official information, which was only released hours later, was criticized for being unclear and badly written, leaving many people — who were about to come out of quarantine — still unable to go home or unsure of what they should do next.

The Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s most prestigious dailies, reported on Saturday evening that the government was going to stop anyone leaving or entering certain areas of the north including the entire region of Lombardy as well as the provinces of Venice, Modena, Padua, and Treviso.

The decision effectively put a quarter of the country’s population — some 15 million people — on lockdown, including the cities of Milan and Venice.

The draft of the decree was soon picked up by many other major news outlets, prompting a deluge of people to railway stations across northern Italy where they crammed onto overcrowded trains, attempting to shield their faces using scarves, hats, and gloves. Many people feared it would be their last chance to leave until the lockdowns are lifted on April 3.

The chaotic scenes also led to fears that infected people from the north who do not have symptoms yet could carry the virus to the rest of the country.

‘Don’t travel south’

“Get off at the first railway station. Don’t take planes to Bari and Brindisi,” Michele Emiliano, governor of the southern region of Puglia, implored northerners. “Turn around in your cars, get off the [intercity] buses at the next stop.”

The government finally published and implemented its decree on Sunday, but many points remain unclear, including what should happen to the many foreign tourists now stuck in the lockdown zones. For now, the travel ban can only be waived in case of “exceptional need,” but it is also unclear how a person would prove their situation constitutes an exceptional case.

Italy has also canceled major sport and cultural events around the country, and big tourist draws like the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel remain closed.

Venice's St Mark's Square is empty after the emergency decree (Reuters/M. Silvestri)

Venice’s St Mark’s Square, normally bustling with tourists, was empty following the emergency decree

Group events such as weddings and funerals are also targeted by the new regulations, as are gathering points like museums, theaters, cinemas, bars, swimming pools, and gyms. All schools and universities remain shut, as are ski resorts and many shopping centers will have reduced hours with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies. Restaurants must close by 6 pm and ensure that all customer groups are seated at least one meter apart.

Checkpoints controlled by police and soldiers on roads that lead out of the “red zone” have already been implemented.

The new rules are likely to devastate Italy’s tourism economy, which is reliant on the food and culture industries.

On Sunday, officials confirmed the death toll from coronavirus leapt by 133 in a day to 366.

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