Coronavirus: quarter of Italy’s population put in quarantine as virus reaches Washington DC

Italy has formally locked down more than a quarter of its population in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the outbreak reached Washington DC and a political convention attended by Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

More than 5,800 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Italy, after an alarming increase of more than 1,200 in a single 24-hour period. Two hundred and thirty-three people have died. Almost 100 countries are now responding to outbreaks.

In the early hours of Sunday, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree enacting forced quarantine for the region of Lombardy – home to more than 10 million people and the financial capital, Milan – and multiple other provinces, totalling around 16 million residents.

Affected provinces include Venice, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, and Treviso.

The lockdown decree includes the power to impose fines on anyone caught entering or leaving Lombardy, the worst-affected region, until 3 April. It provides for the banning of all public events, closing cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs. Religious ceremonies such as funerals and weddings will also be prohibited, and leave for healthcare workers has been cancelled.

Rome is also prolonging the closure of schools across the country until at least 3 April, while major sporting events, such as Serie A football games, will be played behind closed doors.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has signed a decree restricting movement in the north of Italy.



Italian PM Giuseppe Conte has signed a decree restricting movement in the north of Italy. Photograph: Francesco Fotia/AGF/REX/Shutterstock

In the UK, the government is preparing its own emergency response measures, including emergency legislation allowing people to switch jobs and volunteer to work in the NHS or care homes, and for courts to use telephone and video links.

The banning of people over 70 attending public events is also reportedly being considered by the Cobra emergency committee, which meets on Monday.

The escalation in Italy comes as the US struggles with its own response to the outbreak. In Washington DC, authorities reported a “presumptive positive” test result in a man, aged in his 50s, who had no identifiable contact with the virus.

He began exhibiting conditions in late February although he appears to have no record of international travel or close contact with people known to have the virus, Mayor Muriel Bowser said. He remains in hospital.

The American Conservative Union also reported on Saturday that an attendee of its annual conservative political action conference last month has been diagnosed with Covid-19.

The organiser said the affected person had “no interaction” with Trump or Pence and did not attend events in the conference’s main hall, held in Fort Washington, Maryland, just outside the District of Columbia.

Asked about the development later on Saturday, Trump told reporters in Florida he was not concerned and planned to continue to hold political rallies.

Australian authorities are also searching for people, including government employees, who came into contact with two defence force personnel since diagnosed with the virus. Three people have died in the country, with more than 70 confirmed cases. On Sunday, the federal health minister urged people to avoid panic buying, which has seen two people charged for fighting over toilet paper.

The rate of new infections in China, where the outbreak began, has slowed, but at least four people have been killed in a building collapse in the east of the country. The Xinjia Express hotel was being used as a quarantine centre for people infected with the virus, state media said. On Sunday rescuers continued to search for about 20 people still trapped in the rubble.

A man is rescued from the rubble of a collapsed hotel used as a coronavirus quarantine centre in Quanzhou, in China’s eastern Fujian province.



A man is rescued from the rubble of a collapsed hotel used as a coronavirus quarantine centre in Quanzhou, in China’s eastern Fujian province. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

Friends of a prominent Chinese activist detained for criticising President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak said he is being held on a state security charge that carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail.

Xu Zhiyong, a former law lecturer and founder of the social campaign New Citizens Movement, was taken away by police on 15 February during a fresh crackdown on freedom of speech precipitated by the coronavirus crisis.

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