Italy faces first day of nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Europe to discuss spread of epidemic

As Italy enters its first day of a sweeping, nationwide lockdown Tuesday, European leaders are expected to hold a conference call on how to best curb the spread of the coronavirus across the continent that’s now seen more than 520 deaths from the highly infectious COVID-19.

All 27 nations in the European Union have now reported cases of the coronavirus, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters in Brussels, according to Bloomberg, with the majority of cases in Italy. The death toll in Italy reached 463 Monday night, and the outbreak has been dubbed the country's "darkest hour" by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.


The number of infections in Italy spiked by 24 percent on Monday, as now at least 9,100 people tested positive for coronavirus in the country. The new figures prompted Conte to institute a nationwide lockdown effective from Tuesday until April 3.

The lockdown is expected to drastically impact the lives of Italy’s 60 million people, restricting travel, leisure, worship, imprisonment and other areas. Cases have been confirmed in all 20 Italian regions, 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 placed about 16 million Italians under lockdown in the northern Lombardy region, where Milan is located, as well as 14 surrounding provinces, on Sunday. 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 three 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 road between provinces. Only those with approved work-or family-related reasons will be allowed to travel – but must sign proper documentation and submit 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

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.

The United Kingdom, which is no longer formally a part of the European Union, advised its citizens, through Britain's Foreign Office, not to make any unnecessary travel plans to Italy. British Airways then subsequently canceled all flights into and out of Italy Tuesday.


Ireland also canceled its March 17 St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations – events that usually attract half a million spectators, with thousands of tourists who come from out of the country, Bloomberg reported. Madonna scrapped her shows in Paris this week amid the coronavirus outbreak.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the emergency call center of Necker Hospital in Paris to discuss the spread of COVID-19 illnesses. France -- population 67 million -- has documented 30 deaths, while Spain -- population 46.7 million -- has lost 26 people, as of Monday afternoon. The United States has encountered more than 600 cases and some 22 fatalities.

France’s culture minister, Franck Riester, has tested positive with the COVID-19 illness, a colleague confirmed Tuesday. Five cases had already been confirmed in France’s lower house National Assembly, which Riester visited last week. He also met with Macron a few days ago in a separate meeting, France 24 reported. It was not immediately clear if he saw the president before or after his National Assembly visit.


Germany, which implemented harsher and more stringent measures of tracking of the infection chains, recorded its first two coronavirus-related deaths in the country Tuesday morning. Now all 16 German states have confirmed cases – with at least 1,224 cases nationwide. Saxony-Anhalt, located in eastern Germany, was the only state without a reported case until Tuesday, The Local reported.

Fox News' Hollie McKay and David Aaro contributed to this report.