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Coronavirus: Italy says infections have topped 10,000, marks highest single-day death toll of 168

A waiter stands by empty tables outside a restaurant at St Mark's Square after the Italian government imposed a virtual lockdown on the north of Italy including Venice to try to contain a coronavirus outbreak, in Venice, Italy, March 9, 2020.
A waiter stands by empty tables outside a restaurant at St Mark's Square after the Italian government imposed a virtual lockdown on the north of Italy including Venice to try to contain a coronavirus outbreak, in Venice, Italy, March 9, 2020. © REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Italy recorded 168 deaths Tuesday from the  coronavirus, its highest single-day toll to date, pushing the number of fatalities outside China to more than 1,000. Overall in Italy, 631 people have died from the disease and 10,149 have been infected in just over two weeks.

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Italy's first day under a nationwide lockdown came after a decree signed late Monday by Premier Giuseppe Conte ordered the nationwide restrictions on movement. Panic buying erupted, prompting the government to assure citizens that supermarkets will remain open and stocked.

Conte's office said runs on supermarkets went counter to the intent of the new decree, which aims to prevent Italians from congregating. Soldiers and police enforced the travel ban and Carabinieri teams patrolled cafes to make sure owners were keeping customers a metre apart.

"Our civic duty is the only thing that can save us," said Marzio Tonilo, 35, a teacher from the northern town of San Fiorano, which was placed under quarantine last month.

‘It looks like an apocalypse’

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s move to expand the so-called red zone to encompass the entire country on Monday night shocked many small businesses, which fear for their future.

"It looks like an apocalypse has struck, there is no one around," said Mario Monfreda, who runs Larys restaurant in a smart Rome residential area. Under the government order, all bars and restaurants will now have to close at 6pm.

"It is a total disaster. This will reduce us to nothing ... More people are going to die as a result of the economic crisis that this lockdown is going to cause than the virus itself."

However, the prosperous northern region of Lombardy, centred on Italy's financial capital Milan, called on the government to introduce even more stringent measures.

"I would shut down all the shops. I would certainly closed down public transport and I would seek out all businesses that could be shut without creating excessive damage to the economy," said Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana.

While Lombardy accounts for 74% of all the fatalities, the disease has now touched all of the country and the government is worried that if it worsens, the health system in the less developed south will collapse, causing deaths to spike.

St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica have also been closed to tourists and guided groups because of coronavirus -- although individual members of the faithful can enter the basilica to pray, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

A statement said the Vatican would also be closing its post office in the square, which draws many tourists, as well as its bookstore and photo service. A cafeteria inside the Vatican for employees would also close. All measures will remain in effect until April. 3.

Italy's transport links in chaos

Italy's transport links with the outside were thrown into chaos Tuesday -- but not shut down totally -- in the wake of the government's drastic restrictions on travel to contain the coronavirus.

British Airways cancelled all its Italian flights Tuesday while low-cost carriers Ryanair and Wizz Air said that they would be scrapping flights from Italian airports until early April.

The Spanish government said Tuesday that it was suspending all air traffic from Italy for two weeks while Austria said it would be introducing new restrictions on arrivals from Italy.

However, at Rome's main Fiumicino airport there were still services running to destinations in Europe and beyond on Tuesday afternoon, as well as to domestic Italian destinations.

Flights were also still taking off from the smaller Ciampino airport, used mostly by low-cost carriers.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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