Coronavirus: Italy closes shops and restaurants to limit spread of COVID-19

Italy has shut all shops except food stores, pharmacies and stores selling “essential” items, to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.

All restaurants and bars have also been closed as have hairdressers and beauty salons, although restaurants can still make home deliveries.

There have been more than 800 deaths in Italy and on Wednesday there were more than 2,000 new cases reported, bringing the total number of people infected with COVID-19 to 12,462.

The Italian prime minister announced the new restrictions in an address on Facebook Live on Wednesday evening.

In his broadcast, Giuseppe Conte thanked the public for following the restrictions already in place but said Italy must “go another step” to try and stop the spread of the virus.

He said essential public services such as transport, utilities, agriculture, finance, mail and banking would remain operational.

But he encouraged businesses to implement “smart working methods as much as possible”.

“Time off should be encouraged as well as paid leave for employees,” said Mr Conte. “Company departments that are not essential for production should close.”

Italy was already under lockdown but the new measures led to empty streets in normally busy areas of major cities such as Rome and Milan, as people followed the government’s advice and stayed at home.

Sky’s Sally Lockwood is in the Italian capital and says the mood has shifted following the announcement of the new measures.

She said: “As we move about the city the only small queue we encounter is outside a pharmacy where they’re being served through a hatch in the window.

“The people waiting are standing at least one metre apart, some with their faces covered with scarves. They’re almost all from the older generation.

“I ask one 75-year-old man how he’s feeling. If he’s scared. He’s barely begun speaking when his eyes fill with tears and he starts to cry.”

“Scared?” says Aurelio Fragapanni, then he pauses. “People aren’t prepared,” he says as his voice breaks.

Sally added: “The sense of anxiety has stepped up today. But it seems Italians have too. There is virtually no one in the streets as they take these new tough measures seriously.

“One business owner tells me they’re “prepared to do whatever it takes to get through this nightmare.”

Italy is the centre of the virus outbreak in Europe, and worldwide only China has reported more cases of the disease.

It also has an unusually high death rate, with 6.6% of recorded cases proving fatal.

Experts say this may be because the country has the oldest population in Europe, with 23% of people aged 65 or over, and this is one of the groups proving most susceptible to the virus.

In the Lombardy region, which has been particularly badly affected by COVID-19, some hospitals are now at saturation point, with no more intensive care beds available.

The number of serious cases has stretched the Italian health service with doctors and nurses likening fighting the coronavirus to being in a war zone.

Virus Outbreak: Global Emergency – Watch a special Sky News programme on coronavirus at 6pm on weekdays

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