Confusion has hit northern Italy over who can go where and under what circumstances on the first business day since the government locked down a vast area with more than a quarter of the Italian population in a desperate attempt to contain the coronavirus.
Rocketing infections cemented Italy as a global virus hotspot, and superficial compliance with earlier restrictions covering 11 towns prompted the government to extend its quarantine order to encompass the entire Lombardy region and 14 provinces in the Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions.
Streets in Milan, Italy’s financial hub and the main city in Lombardy, were unseasonably quiet. Checkpoints were set up at the city’s main train station to screen travellers.
People at Milan Central Station were required to sign a police form, self-certifying they were travelling for “proven work needs”, situations of necessity, health reasons or to return to their homes.
“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,” said the mayor of the city of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori.
People circulating inside the city and also 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.
The message from authorities was an increasingly blunt “Stay at home”.
Italy had registered 1,807 more confirmed cases by Monday evening, for a national total of 9,172, again overtaking South Korea as the country with the most cases outside China. The number of dead in Italy also increased by 97 to 463.
Premier Giuseppe Conte signed a decree early on Sunday attempting to lock down 16 million people in Italy’s prosperous north – more than a quarter of Italy’s population — for nearly a month to halt the virus’s relentless march across Europe.
The extraordinary measures, which also apply to the city of Venice, will be in place until April 3.
The regions affected by the decree are among the most productive in Italy. Industry leaders worry about a perception being created abroad that all business is shut down and commercial deliveries of exports cannot be made.
The civil protection agency has emphasised that commercial freight is not affected by the crackdown, but that does not address what happens to drivers who leave the containment area. In theory, they would be subject to 14-day quarantines once they return from trips outside the red zones.
For travellers and commuters, procedures at main railway stations have been tightened significantly since the Sunday morning decree. Pairs of police officers in masks backed by pairs of masked armed soldiers check tickets and documents of people arriving and departing.