Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Italy Is a Ghost Town Because of Coronavirus. The Rest of Europe Is Next.

Italy has seen a huge jump in coronavirus deaths, and has responded by closing all shops except pharmacies and food retailers.

Italy has tightened its coronavirus shutdown even further, closing virtually all shops except for pharmacies and supermarkets Thursday, after its death toll rose at a staggering rate.

As the pandemic spreads, countries around Europe are following Italy’s restrictive approach, closing borders, shutting schools and offices, and banning public gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the new emergency restrictions, which went into force nationwide Thursday, after the death toll surged by 196 to 827 victims — a rise of about one-third and the country’s biggest leap so far. Italy had already imposed unprecedented measures against the outbreak, banning travel and public gatherings, and closing schools, cinemas and museums. But Conte’s government has been under pressure from the opposition to shut down “everything,” amid fears that the soaring numbers of patients will cause the overwhelmed health care system to collapse.

Under the new restrictions, all shops deemed “non-essential” are ordered closed, leaving only pharmacies, food retailers, and a few others like hardware stores and gas stations, permitted to remain open. Cafés, bars, restaurants and hairdressers — which were already operating under orders to keep customers at least three feet away from each other — have all been ordered to shut.

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An almost empty British Airways passenger plane flies from Milan to London on March 5, 2020 in Milan, Italy.

Laurel Chor | Getty Images

The new decree also orders companies to shut any departments deemed non-essential. Factories are allowed to continue operating, on the condition that companies adopt stringent safety measures to prevent contagion.

GP: Coronavirus Rome Italy shutdown Precautions against coronavirus in Italy
A waiter closes a pizza shop due to few tourists attraction at 6 pm. in Rome, Italy, on March 11, 2020.

Riccardo De Luca | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

 With 12,462 confirmed cases, Italy is the worst affected country outside China, where the pandemic began. But while new infections are tapering off in China, they’re soaring in Italy, from where the virus has spread to other European countries, fuelling fears of a wider outbreak across the Continent.

GP: Coronavirus: Rome quarantined ITALY-HEALTH-VIRUS
Soldiers patrol past an empty restaurant in the Trastevere district of Rome on March 10, 2020. Italy imposed unprecedented national restrictions on its 60 million people on March 10, 2020 to control the deadly coronavirus.

Alberto Pizzoli | AFP | Getty Images

In response to the rising threat, European countries have begun introducing their own measures to enforce social distancing. On Thursday, Ireland became the latest to do this: Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the government was closing schools, universities, nurseries and public offices. It’s also banning indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor ones of more than 500.

GP: Coronavirus Milan
A general view shows a woman walk across the deserted Vittorio Emanuele II galleria shopping mall on March 10, 2020 in Milan.

Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images

Other countries including Denmark, Poland and Hungary have introduced similar measures, and France and the United Kingdom are expected to announce ramped up response measures Thursday.

The outbreak in Italy has also led neighboring countries to close their borders. Austria and Slovenia will permit entry only to people who can provide negative tests for the virus, and Switzerland partially closed its border by sealing off a number of crossings.

GP: Coronavirus Rome Piazza Navona ITALY-HEALTH-VIRUS
A man sits on a bench at a deserted Piazza Navona in central Rome on March 12, 2020 in Rome, as Italy shut all stores except for pharmacies and food shops in a desperate bid to halt the spread of a coronavirus that has killed 827 in the the country in just over two weeks.

Vincenzo Pinto | AFP | Getty Images

Experts say that intensive social distancing measures proved successful in bringing the epidemic under control in Wuhan, where Chinese authorities say they have “basically curbed” the outbreak.

“The objective of these measures is to control the epidemic and ensure hospitals can cope with the number of patients they have to treat,” said Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology at University College London.

But, he said, lockdowns came “at a great cost to individuals, communities and the economy,” and weren’t sustainable for long.--Vice

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