Italy saw 168 additional deaths from the coronavirus within the past 24 hours, authorities announced Tuesday, raising the national death toll to a whopping 631 amid the first day of a sweeping country-wide lockdown, the British ITV television channel first reported.
The death toll stood at 463 in Italy on Monday evening -- with the number of cases in the country spiking 24 percent over the weekend, with at least 9,100 Italians infected with the COVID-19 virus. Calling it Italy's "darkest hour," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, prompted by those figures, announced the nationwide lockdown effective from Tuesday until April 3 on the entire population of 60 million.
Measures restricting travel, leisure, worship, imprisonment and other areas were expected to drastically impact the daily lives of those across Italy. Cases have been confirmed in all 20 Italian regions, the BBC reported. It is the worst-hit country outside of China and the first in Europe to put its entire population on lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Italy also became the first Democratic nation since World War II to announce a nationwide lockdown, according to Bloomberg.
The prime minister initially on Sunday placed about 16 million Italians under lockdown in the northern Lombardy region, where Milan is located, as well as 14 surrounding provinces. But the lockdown was extended to include the entire country.
Under the nationwide restrictions, some small businesses and shops are allowed to remain open with limited hours, as long as people stand at least 3 feet apart. Mortgage payments will be suspended across the country, Laura Castelli, Italy’s deputy economy minister, announced on the radio Monday, according to Reuters.
Italians must receive permission from the police to travel by air, train and even on roads between provinces. Only those with approved work- or family-related reasons will be allowed to travel -- but must sign proper documentation and submit it to police checks.
Doctors, nurses and other medical workers in Italy were forced to cancel any planned leave amid the outbreak. Riots broke out in jails in Italy’s Lombardy region over the weekend after family visits were suspended to prevent the spread of the virus.
Activities that usually involve large gatherings of people -- including school and university classes, soccer matches and even masses in some regions -- have been put on hold until next month. A select number of high-level sporting events and training will be permitted as long as they go on without physical audiences present, The Guardian reported. Museums, cultural centers, swimming pools, spas, sports halls and ski resorts across Italy shut their doors amid the lockdown, as well.
Gyms and cinemas have been closed and concerts have been canceled, rendering most prepaid tickets useless, The New York Times reported. Nightclubs will also remain closed, as Conte urged young people to limit their social scene to prevent further spread of the virus.
Conte said the new measures were implemented to protect those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus -- including the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions.