Italians woke up on Sunday morning, and it was already the future. Overnight, the government announced the most dramatic measures yet taken by a democracy to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Other Western countries are watching closely, worried they may soon have to follow Italy’s lead.
Rome placed severe travel restrictions on the entire Lombardy region surrounding Milan—the country’s economic, fashion, and media capital—and on 14 other provinces across the wealthy north, including Venice and parts of the Emilia Romagna region. In this area of 16 million people, the coronavirus’s European epicenter, where the number of cases has been rising rapidly, Italy banned all public gatherings—no weddings, funerals, concerts, sporting events, discos, bingo games, video arcades, or Mass—until April 3. While trains and planes are still operational, and running on time, the government is forbidding people from leaving unless absolutely necessary.
Restaurants and bars can open but only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and only if they can ensure three feet of space between each guest. Nationwide, the government ordered the closure of all cinemas, theaters, concert halls, libraries, and museums, as well as the quarantine of anyone with a fever above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit), and anyone who’s tested positive for the virus. Last week, Italy closed all schools, day-care facilities, and universities, until mid-March at the earliest. Pope Francis, who has been fighting a cold, delivered his weekly Angelus message on Sunday via video from a Vatican library, not, as is typical, from a window overlooking Saint Peter’s Square. “I’ll use a strong expression,” Francis said. “This pope is caged in the library.”