LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The Italian government has imposed a lockdown on about a quarter of its population in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The quarantine includes the cities of Milan and Venice and the country's entire northern region of Lombardy. That's Italy's economic heart. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us now from Rome. Hi.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The latest numbers from Italy say there are 5,800 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. And 233 people have died. You know, tell us what the Italian government is saying.
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the announcement about the quarantine plans came right after that news came - that the numbers had spiked by more than 1,200 in one day. It was the biggest daily increase in the outbreak. So there was confusion last night. There were reports that finally the prime minister appeared on television and announced the government has decided to take this very draconian measure, setting up literally a cordon sanitaire, cutting off an infected area to curb the spread of the disease - to try to curb the spread of the disease and, you know, taking a lead from China. This is how Giuseppe Conte at a press conference - what he said last night.
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PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE: (Through interpreter) There will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory. Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the Italian prime minister there. How many people are affected by this lockdown?
POGGIOLI: Sixteen-million people. It covers, as you said, Milan, Italy's economic capital and the entire region of Lombardy, parts of Piedmont. Together, that's Italy's industrial heartland. There's Venice. And then there's parts of the Emilia-Romagna region where some of Italy's major food production is located. As everybody knows, Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and balsamic vinegar - they're not just delicacies but important elements of Italy's export economy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do we know exactly what this move means? You know, what are the actual restrictions on people who live and work there?
POGGIOLI: Well, here's some. Gyms, ski resorts, swimming pools are shut down. Restaurants and cafes can stay open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. only if they guarantee customers stay three feet apart. Churches are open, funerals and weddings suspended. There are also new restrictions on the rest of the country. Theaters, cinemas, museums, discos and betting parlors are closed. And as Conte said, Italians will have to learn a new way of living. One of the first to take steps to discourage crowds was Pope Francis, who's got a cold. And he gave his Sunday greetings in a video today rather than appear at the window overlooking St. Peter's Square.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, what have you seen from the people there? How are they reacting?
POGGIOLI: Well, there was a lot of confusion last night. A lot of people got on - as soon as they heard the rumors, they got on trains and got out of town. This is certainly Milan. But, you know, even - I think Italians have reacted pretty well. They're not usually the most disciplined people. But they've taken this incredibly well in their stride. And, you know, in any case, they can't complain that the virus plays favorites. Yesterday, the leader of one of the country's governing parties announced on Facebook that he has tested positive.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Sylvia Poggioli from Rome. Sylvia, thank you very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.