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Italy quarantines 16 million people in coronavirus-hit north

Italy’s prime minister announced a sweeping coronavirus quarantine early Sunday, restricting the movements of about a quarter of the country’s population in a bid to limit contagions at the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak.

Shortly after midnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting about 16 million people in the country’s prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 15 provinces in neighboring regions. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3.

“For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory,” Conte said. “Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.”

The Italian government has found itself at the forefront of the global fight against an epidemic that has convulsed the markets and paralyzed global supply chains since first emerging in China late last year.

The Mediterranean country of 60 million people has recorded 233 deaths and 5,883 infections in the past two 7 weeks.

The virus has now spread to all 22 Italian regions and the first deaths are being recorded in Italy’s less well medically equipped south.

There was no immediate word on whether the Italian Stock Exchange in Milan would remain open.

“I cannot fail to stress that the draft decree of the prime minister is — to say the least — messed up,” Lombardy region president Attilio Fontan was quoted as saying by Italy’s Sky TG24 rolling news channel.