Italy's Lombardy, Campania prepare virus curfews as cases jump

Milan (AFP) –

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Italy's northern Lombardy region prepared Tuesday to impose a night-time curfew for three weeks, the most restrictive anti-coronavirus measure the country has seen since it emerged from a national lockdown in spring.

And in the southern region of Campania, the regional head Vincenzo De Luca said a curfew would begin this weekend, but gave no details immediately on how it would work or how long it would last.

Lombardy, the region, hit hardest by the virus that has already claimed more than 36,000 lives in the country, is struggling to contain a new surge in cases.

Lombardy's overnight 11-5 curfew is expected to begin on Thursday night and last to November 13.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza gave his consent late Monday to Lombardy's more restrictive measure proposed by the regional government, after an hours-long meeting.

"It's an appropriate and symbolically important initiative that shouldn't have particularly serious economic consequences," Regional President Attilio Fontana said in the newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday.

Milan's mayor, Beppe Sala, said on Facebook that regional health authorities had warned that the 113 people currently in intensive care in Lombardy would rise to nearly 600 people by the end of the week, overwhelming the system, if new measures were not imposed.

- Sharp rise -

More than 10,000 new Covid-19 infections were recorded in Italy on Friday for the first time ever, with Lombardy the worst hit, as it was in the beginning of the health crisis in February.

The region, which includes Italy's financial hub of Milan, reported 1,687 new cases on Monday, with Campania coming a close second with 1,593.

In the past week, from October 12-19, the number of those hospitalized with Covid-19 in Lombardy has jumped 145 percent.

"There's no more social distancing," said one Milan newspaper stand owner.

"A few weeks ago, they took off the (social distancing) markers on the ground and if you go into the subway or the tram it's chaos," said Alessandro Sigolo, 57.

Francesco Bini, head of the pulmonology department at Milan's Garbagnate Hospital, said Lombardy's density and business activity was exacerbating transmission of the virus.

"Lombardy is a very dynamic region, very active, with a large population, concentrated particularly in the cities," Bini told AFP.

"Doing a lot of things, seeing a lot of people, having a lot of work and meeting activities facilitates the spread of the virus."

Some research has suggested the industrial region's more polluted air also plays a role in the virus' spread.

A study carried out in February and March by the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine (SIMA) found that regions with less fine-particulate pollution reported an average of 0.03 infections per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with 0.26 in the worst polluted regions.

- Restricted lockdowns -

On Saturday, Lombardy ordered its bars to shut at midnight and banned the consumption of food and drink in public areas outside.

Italy has tightened restrictions recently to try to head off the second wave of infections, banning amateur contact sports, such as football, ending school trips and restricting bars and restaurants to table service after 6:00 pm. Until now however, no region had imposed a curfew

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he does not envision another country-wide lockdown, which would further sap Italy's struggling economy -- but has said he would not rule out limited ones.

Lombardy's curfew is expected to only allow people to leave their home for reasons of health, work or necessity.

The new decree will also call for large shopping centres to be shut on weekends, according to Italian media reports.