Italy to be entirely locked down amid coronavirus outbreak

The entire nation of Italy is being locked down to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Tuesday morning that all public events would be banned, including sporting events. The likes of theatres, gyms, pools, schools, universities and other places where people may congregate are also being ordered to close.

Movement for the nation's 60 million people will only be allowed if it is essential for work or for emergencies. Conte said people should remain indoors, and preferably, in their homes.  Public transport will, however, reportedly continue to operate.

"We have no time to adapt, numbers tell us we have a spike in infections, people in intensive care and deaths," a translation of Conte's speech by Politico reads.

"Our habits must change right now."

Of particular concern for Conte has been the assembly of young people in nightclubs. 

"This nightlife... we can't allow this any more."

The restrictions are expected to last until at least April 3.

"We all must give something up for the good of Italy. We have to do it now, and we'll only be able if we all collaborate and adapt to these more stringent measures," Conte said.

"This is why I decided to adopt even more strong and severe measures to contain the advance... and protect the health of all citizens."

Previously, only northern regions - where most of the cases have been recorded - were subject to restrictions in movement. When that decree was announced, many fled the area.

"We are facing a national emergency. We chose from the beginning to take the line of truth and transparency and now we're moving with lucidity and courage, with firmness and determination," Conte told reporters after announcing the restrictions on northern Italy.

"We have to limit the spread of the virus and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed," he said.

The death toll in the country from the illness is 463, up 97 in the last day. The number of people with the illness is 9172. That is the most cases outside of China, where the illness originated.

The lockdown means the Serie A football league has been suspended.

Some prisons in northern Italy have experienced riots after inmates were angered over how the lockdown restrictions limited family visits.

Currently, New Zealand is asking people returning from northern regions to self-isolate for 14-days. Many of the cases reported in the United Kingdom are people who have recently visited the region, which includes centres like Milan and Venice. 

Neighbouring country France has seen 1116 cases, while Germany has recorded 1112, according to the lastest World Health Organisation situation report.

There are more than 100,000 cases of the illness worldwide, across 100 countries. World Health Organisation Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was "troubling" that COVID-19 had a foothold in so many countries and that the "threat of a pandemic has become very real".

However, he continued to say that the virus was containable if countries enforced aggressive measures to combat it. He praised China for its efforts, which have contributed to fewer cases being recorded there.

Elements of an effective COVID-19 response from WHO

  • emergency response mechanisms
  • risk communications and public engagement
  • case finding and contact tracing
  • public health measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing
  • laboratory testing
  • treating patients and hospital readiness
  • infection prevention and control
  • an all-of-society, all-of-government approach.

What we know about coronavirus

Coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs. However, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present, according to the World Health Organisation. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces is unknown at this stage, but some viruses can remain active for days. 

The WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • not eating shared or communal food
  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

A full explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here, while here are eight things you should know about the virus.

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.