Quarantine, if approved, would ban movement into and out northern provinces, including Milan, Venice and Parma
MILAN—The Italian government is planning to lock down 16 million people—more than a quarter of its population—including in Milan, the surrounding Lombardy region and 11 neighboring provinces, in the most sweeping steps any European country has prepared to take against the coronavirus epidemic.
A draft decree from the Italian Prime Minister’s office, seen by The Wall Street Journal, says people living in Lombardy, where Milan is the capital, and the named provinces in Lombardy’s nearby regions must “absolutely avoid any movement into and out of the areas.”
Police, emergency services and if needed the army will be available to enforce the quarantine. People violating the lockdown can be punished with a fine or jail terms, according to the draft decree.
The government was discussing details with authorities in the affected regions on Saturday night. A final decision on the decree was expected on Sunday, and the quarantine would take effect on Monday, an Italian official said. It would run until April 3, according to the draft decree.
Italy, which has had the largest number of infections outside Asia, is a test of how far Western countries are willing and able to curtail personal freedom of movement and lifestyle in order to contain the epidemic.
The move by the Italian government is reminiscent of measures taken in China, which put about 500 million people under full or partial lockdown. China’s moves appear to be having success as the number of new cases reported by the government has fallen steeply in the past week, and the daily number of new cases is less than in several other countries including Italy.
Italy had confirmed 5,883 coronavirus cases by Saturday, of which 233 people had died. Italy has tried to respond with moderate restrictions, such as banning many public events; before Saturday it had only imposed lockdowns on small areas in the country’s north, with a population of around 50,000.
The new measures planned from Sunday in much of northern Italy include tight restrictions on travel within the affected areas, where people will be told to move about only for emergencies and work obligations that can’t be postponed. The draft decree asks all private and public employees to take their leave allowance during the quarantine period, if they can, to stay at home.