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Italy Attempts Massive Quarantine To Stop Spread Of Coronavirus


How do you go about locking down some 60 million people? That is the effort underway in Italy. The country's reporting more than 9,000 cases of coronavirus and, as of today, 463 deaths. Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has declared the entire country a, quote, "red zone," meaning people should stay home except for emergencies and going to work. Now, this expands the emergency measures already in place in Northern Italy, which is where most of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 are. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins me now from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.


KELLY: Hi. So explain red zone. What does that mean? What exactly is the prime minister saying?

POGGIOLI: Well, essentially, over the weekend, the government declared something like a quarter of the population under a lockdown in the North, in all of Lombardy and 14 provinces in nearby regions as of this...

KELLY: Yeah, Milan and Venice - big cities.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely, lots of cities. And, of course, it's the industrial heartland of Italy. So that's another huge problem. Now, this evening, because, of course - he said the numbers of contagion, the number of deaths are rising, the number of people being hospitalized. He says this means that we have to do something more drastic. We agreed to introduce even more drastic measures.

And basically, he didn't give many details on what is happening. But it was kind of like a rallying the nation on a national emergency. He said, you know, we have to all change our habits right away. We have to safeguard the health of all citizens. He said the slogan is I am staying home. Italy is a protected zone. He took away the name red zone. Now it's Italy is a protected zone.

KELLY: Protected zone. But practically meaning, what is - practically speaking, what does that mean? We said you you can leave for an emergency. You can leave to go to work. Can you leave to go to the park? Can you leave to go buy groceries?

POGGIOLI: Well, yes. People can do those. But what's going to happen is that all public gatherings have been banned. The other one - this is a real whopper in this country where the secular religion is soccer. All soccer games have been suspended. And that - he said even soccer fans are going to have to adapt.

But essentially, he said the future of Italy is in our hands. We have to make sacrifices. He said it's also for our medical workers. They're tireless. There's - they're risking their own lives. We have to do this for everyone.

KELLY: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reporting there from Rome. Thank you, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Mary.

KELLY: Now, we mentioned that some of Italy has already been under lockdown for a couple of days - the North. I spoke earlier to Wall Street Journal reporter Eric Sylvers. He is based in Milan. And I asked him what the lockdown looks like from there.

ERIC SYLVERS: What the lockdown means is that we're not allowed to leave the region. If you want to try to leave, you can fill out a form and try to convince them that you absolutely have to for work. And then they'll take your temperature, and you might be able to get out. There isn't a blanket rule that you can't go out of your house. They've asked you to keep it to a bare minimum.

But at the same time, bars - meaning here in Italy, when we say bar, you know, we mean a cafe where you go and get your expresso or your cappuccino - those are open as are restaurants until 6 p.m. So obviously, if they're open, the government is thinking that people might be leaving their house. So you can go to those establishments. But they've begun being very rigorous about keeping people 1 meter apart.

KELLY: One meter, so roughly 3 feet apart.

SYLVERS: Yeah, that's right - roughly 3 feet apart, which is obviously, you know, aimed at keeping people from passing the virus. And, you know, you can obviously go to supermarkets. You can go to the pharmacy. I took my kids to the park today, you know, keeping away from other people. I noticed that...

KELLY: Because they're off school by the way, right? All schools are shut.

SYLVERS: That's right. All schools are shut. More than 8 million students are at home. So, yes. There's a lot of people trying to find that balance between working at home, which is already not so easy and then working at home with the kids, you know, adds another element. So I think there's a lot of people who are juggling that as well.

KELLY: That was Eric Sylvers, reporter with the Wall Street Journal, talking about life under lockdown in Milan. Again, the news tonight - that lockdown will be extended to all of Italy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.