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Travel continues in northern Italy despite virus lockdown

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Rome (AFP)

Travelling into and out of Italy's coronavirus-hit north was continuing by rail, road and air on Monday -- despite a government crackdown that was meant to isolate the region.

Airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair, British Airways and Air France were continuing to serve airports in Milan and Venice -- the region's two biggest transport hubs.

The government imposed sweeping measures to restrict travel in the prosperous north on Sunday, where the outbreak has been at its worst.

Travel is allowed only for compelling reasons such as work or medical need -- and for those who had been in the region temporarily to return home.

Officials promised to set up checkpoints on roads and the measures are backed by fines of more than 200 euros ($230) for transgressors.

On a main road leading out of the city of Modena -- inside the exclusion zone -- AFP saw controls come into effect on Monday afternoon, with one car being turned back.

As for rail travel, operator Trenitalia has made changes to its schedules but is still running services in and out of the region.

At Milan's central train station on Monday passengers had to queue up at special checkpoints staffed by soldiers and police.

"I'm about to leave this city because I'm afraid to be here," said 20-year-old student Adriana from Belarus as she made her way to her train.

Airlines had already been cutting routes in recent weeks and national carrier Alitalia said it would stop flying from Milan's Malpensa airport.

An AFP photographer at the airport said the terminal was virtually deserted on Monday morning.

However domestic flights from the city's Linate airport would continue, Alitalia said.

The websites of both airports were showing a swathe of cancellations, with most flights scrapped at Linate, but most services still scheduled to take off at Malpensa.

Despite the full schedule, one cafe worker at Malpensa complained the effect on the airport has been worse than the September 11 terrorist attack.

- 'Afraid to be here' -

Rail passengers told AFP their identity documents were being checked on arrival to make sure they were residents of Milan.

Travellers venturing in or out of the new zone are meant to present "self-certifications" of their reasons for travel, which officials say can then be checked at further checkpoints.

There will also be temperature checks for passengers at train station entrances and exits.

Checks are also being introduced for cruise ships at Venice port.

Passengers "will not be able to disembark to visit the city but can transit only in order to return to their place of residence or countries of origin".

But the more stringent quarantine measures which were imposed last month around 11 areas considered to be the centres of the outbreak have now been partially lifted, according to officials in Codogno, one of the towns affected.

Massimo Galli, the head of a team of doctors from the Biomedical Research Institute in Milan who identified the Italian strain last month, told AFP that the lifting of those measures "makes no sense".

"These measures need to be in place for longer in order for the sacrifice they have made (being under lockdown) to be effective," he said.

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