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Italy towns wake to quarantine, queue for food in coronavirus outbreak

  • Ljubomir Milasin

    Agence France-Presse

Codogno, Italy   /   Mon, February 24, 2020   /   01:01 am
Italy towns wake to quarantine, queue for food in coronavirus outbreak Italian National Police officers stand by as they inform residents at the entrance of the small town of Casalpusterlengo, southeast of Milan, on February 23, 2020, under the shadow of a new coronavirus outbreak, as Italy took drastic containment steps as worldwide fears over the epidemic spiralled. (AFP/Miguel Medina)

Tens of thousands of Italians prepared for a weeks-long quarantine in the country's north on Sunday as nerves began to fray among the locals faced with new lockdown measures.

Two people have died from the virus since Friday and more than a hundred cases have now been reported in Italy, most of them centred around the small town of Codogno, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of Milan. 

Over 50,000 residents in eleven towns -- 10 in Lombardy and one in the neighbouring region of Veneto -- now face what Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday could be weeks of lockdown.

Locals wearing face masks were already lined up outside a supermarket in the town of Casalpusterlengo, a 10 minute drive from Codogno, on Sunday morning.

Shoppers were made to wait, then allowed to enter in groups of 40 inside the store to stock up on provisions.

Although one woman in the crowd downplayed the virus, telling other shoppers it was "not fatal" if properly treated, others were less sanguine.  

"It's inhuman," said one man who gave his name as Sante. "Fighting over four sandwiches is just disgusting."  

Another woman, Emanuela, told AFP-TV that residents including her were nervous. 

"I'm really scared, we're going through a really tough situation," said the woman, a nurse who works in the area.

 Rising infections 

Blockades were not yet erected, and cars could be seen driving in and around the area of Codogno and Casalpusterlengo, although police cars patrolled the area. 

It was not clear how authorities would impose the travel restrictions and whether residents would still be allowed to travel from town to town within the affected zones, without surpassing an outer limit.

"We're preparing to set up the checkpoints for the containment zone," a policewoman told AFP, saying that initially the perimeter would be narrow but could widen over time. 

"We're about ten criminal police teams here, so nothing related to this kind of situation, but we've been called in from Bologna, Turin and Genoa to give a hand," she added. 

For now, the quarantine appears to be largely dependent on individuals to respect the system but the government said those found in violation could face fines and even three months in jail.

The government has also said the army was prepared to step in if needed to enforce the perimeter. 

On Sunday, the head of the civil protection department, Angelo Borrelli, said during a press conference that thousands of beds were at the ready in military barracks or hotels to house quarantined or sick individuals, if needed. 

The number of those infected with the virus had now grown to 132, including the two people who died, Borrelli said.