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Italian premier locks down entire country to stop virus

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte put his entire country on lockdown Monday to combat the coronavirus, banning all but the most important travel and putting the final kibosh on social gatherings after Italians failed to take previous warnings to heart amid skyrocketing infections.

Two days after imposing the same strict measures on a quarter of the country, in the hard-hit north, Conte urged all 60 million Italians to stay home. The only travel allowed will be for proven work reasons, for health conditions or other cases of necessity.

“Our habits must be changed, changed now. We all have to give up something for the good of Italy. When I speak of Italy, I speak of our dear ones, of our grandparents and of our parents,” Conte said. “We will succeed only if we all collaborate and we adapt right away to these more stringent norms.”

The nationwide restrictions take effect Tuesday until April 3 and include extending the closures of schools and universities and closing pubs, eateries and cafes at dusk.

Conte took to task young people who continued to gather socially as the virus spread, saying “this night life … we can’t allow this any more.”

Italy registered 1,807 more confirmed cases as of Monday evening, for a national total of 9,172. The number of dead in Italy also increased by 97 to 463 — most of them elderly with previous ailments.

Despite registering the largest number of cases outside of China, Italy has seen only superficial compliance with measures aimed at reducing social contact, including closing cinemas and theaters and banning fans from soccer games. The government gradually expand the so-called red zones.

Restrictions on movement initially applied to 11 towns in northern Italy with a total population of around 50,000 people before being expanded Sunday to all of Lombardy and 14 provinces in the neighboring regions of Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna.

On the first business day since the government locked down a broad swath of the north, confusion reigned over who could go where and under what circumstances Monday.

Streets in Milan, Italy’s financial hub and the main city in Lombardy, were unseasonably quiet. For the first time, checkpoints were set up at the city’s main train station to screen travelers. People at Milan Central Station were required to sign a police form, self-certifying why they were traveling.

“Until a few days ago, the thinking was the alarm would pass in some weeks, we just need to follow the rules. Now we need to explain to citizens that the situation is very, very serious, our hospitals are at the point of collapse,” the mayor of the Lombardy city of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, told RAI state television.

People circulating inside the city and in the provinces were subjected to spot checks to ensure they had valid reasons for being out. Violators risked up to three months jail or fines of 206 euros ($225).

Earlier Monday, civil protection authorities shut down all ski areas nationwide after one tried to tempt kids who are locked out of school to the slopes. That signaled an end to patience with the sort of wheeling-and-dealing that is often admired in Italy.

Under the extended measures, casual errands are out. The time-honored Italian tradition of an espresso at the corner cafe — gone. Customers now are required to take tables, if possible, the one furthest from the bar. The evening aperitif is also frowned upon; bars close at 6 p.m. Even going to the grocery store is a major expedition.

The regions affected by the decree are among the most productive in Italy. Industry leaders worried about a perception being created abroad that all business was shut down and commercial deliveries of exports cannot be made.

The civil protection agency has emphasized that commercial freight is not affected by the crackdown.

For travelers and commuters, procedures at Milan’s main train station were tightened significantly. Police officers in masks backed by pairs of masked armed soldiers checked tickets and documents of people arriving and departing.

Header: Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)