- Thousands of people fled parts of Northern Italy after plans to quarantine more than 16 million people over the novel coronavirus were leaked ahead of time.
- People rushed to travel south, outside the limits of a mass lockdown meant to restrict public gatherings and stop people from entering and leaving.
- One Italian virus expert said the leak caused panic and unnecessary travel. “Unfortunately some of those who fled will be infected with the disease,” the person said.
- Regions in Southern Italy are screening people coming from the north. So far, at least 366 people in Italy have died from the virus.
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Thousands of people rushed to flee Northern Italy after plans by the government for a 16-million-person quarantine were leaked to the media ahead of time.
Italy on Sunday shut down its Northern Lombardy region, which includes Milan, and 14 nearby provinces, a lockdown that is due to last until at least April 3.
The measure does not totally restrict movement within the areas, but it means places like schools, museums, and theaters are closed, events like weddings and funerals are suspended, and bars and restaurants must keep customers a minimum distance apart.
People can enter or leave the affected area only for emergencies, with the possibility of jail time for those who break the rules.
A draft of the bill to enforce the rules was reported by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Saturday, prompting panic and pushing thousands of people to try to leave the region before the measures took place, The Guardian reported.
The Italian newspaper Il Tempo reported that the draft plan’s leaking prompted thousands of people to “leave Lombardy in a hurry before the rules were approved.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called the leak “unacceptable” on Sunday, The Guardian reported. “This news created uncertainty, insecurity, and confusion, and we cannot tolerate this,” he said.
As of Monday, Italy had recorded more than 7,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 366 deaths — more than any other country in Europe.
People fleeing prompted other cities and regions to check passengers arriving from the north, The Guardian reported. And Puglia, a region in Southern Italy, is requiring anyone who arrives from the north to quarantine themselves.
Michele Emiliano, the president of Puglia, urged people on Facebook to take measures to stop the virus from spreading in the region.
“You are carrying into the lungs of your brothers and sisters, your grandparents, uncles, cousins, parents the virus that folded the health system of Northern Italy,” he said.
He also said thousands of people had decided to stay in the north “out of responsibility and out of love towards their loved ones and their land.”
Roberto Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at Milan’s Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, told The Guardian: “What happened with the news leak has caused many people to try to escape, causing the opposite effect of what the decree is trying to achieve.”
“Unfortunately some of those who fled will be infected with the disease.”
The measures have resulted in empty streets in Milan and the affected regions. Serie A soccer matches are being played in empty stadiums.
People outside the quarantined regions have also decided to leave Italy given the virus and the severity of the measures.
Alice Nicoletta Richardson, a UK citizen who was in a Northern Italy region not under quarantine for a ski holiday, told Business Insider that her group decided to leave the country on Sunday.
Walter Ricciardi, a coronavirus adviser to Italy’s health ministry who is a member of the World Health Organization, described Italy’s measures to The Guardian as “extreme” and as something that “I don’t think have ever been taken in any other democratic country.”
The measures are the most drastic outside China, which locked down Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the virus is thought to have originated, and had put more than 780 million people under some sort of travel restrictions, according to a CNN tally.
Most of those cases and deaths are in China, but new cases there have slowed dramatically, leaving countries like Italy and as the new hot spots.