Venice and Milan among major Italian cities locked down to fight coronavirus

Venice and Milan are among major Italian cities locked down from today in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The Italian government has isolated the entire region of Lombardy – which is home to 10 million people and is the country's richest region – and 14 neighbouring provinces in tough new measures to contain the virus.

The harsh measures mean that a quarter of Italy's population are now in quarantine.

Italy has been the European country hardest hit by COVID-19, with nearly 6,000 cases and 233 deaths.

The number of those infected soared by more than 1,200 in the space of 24 hours on Saturday.

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A court has now approved a decree from Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in which people are banned from leaving Lombardy, including its capital Milan.

"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," he said.
"Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues."

Movement is also banned from Venice, Parma and Rimini until April 3, according to a draft of the government resolution, which was seen by  Italy's Corriere Della Sera newspaper.

All museums, gyms, cultural centers, ski centers and swimming pools in quarantined areas will be closed.

Weddings, funerals and sporting events have also been suspended and leave has been cancelled for all health workers.

Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Venice, Padua, Treviso, Asti, Alessandria, Pesaro and Urbino are among the affected provinces.

Those found to have violated the new emergency laws can be arrested and fined.

The announcement led to bars and restaurants emptying out in the northern city of Padua on Saturday evening as residents rushed to catch the last train ahead of the travel ban.

Until now, only a few "red areas" within northern Italy had been quarantined.

The harsh new measures are similar to those enacted in China, which WHO have credited with slowing the spread of the virus.

The Italian government has also pledged to spend 7,500m euros on tackling the outbreak.

The country has recorded the highest number of deaths due to COVID-19 of any country outside China, where the epidemic began earlier this year.

On Saturday, the politician Nicola Zingaretti, who is leader of Italy's centre-left Democratic Party, also confirmed he had tested positive for the virus.

Worldwide, there are now more than 100,000 confirmed cases and the global death toll has reached 3,000.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has told all countries to make containment "their highest priority".

Its head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called the global health emergency "deeply concerning".

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