Italy has seen new infection and death rates soar over the weekend, forcing the Government into taking drastic action to try and contain the virus.
Over a 24 hour period from Saturday to Sunday more than 1,200 new cases were confirmed and deaths increased by over 50 percent, rising from 233 to 366, according to latest figures. The dramatic surge forced the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, to sign a decree enforcing the quarantine of more than 16 million people.
The whole of Lombardy, including its financial capital of Milan, and 14 provinces across the worst-affected northern regions, have been shut down until 3 April.
Reports also emerged that the Government intended to ban prison visits in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.This provoked riots in a number of Italian jails, leading to the deaths of three inmates at a prison in Modena.
The Human Rights organisation Antigone published a statement calling for immediate action to be taken to alleviate tensions in Italian prisons over the coronavirus situation.
The statement said: “We had already warned tensions were growing in prisons, and that we feared it could end in tragedy.
“All necessary measures must be taken to ensure prisoners their full rights, stopping this escalation of tension and preventing others from dying.
“One death is already too much.”
Police were called in to restore order at Frosinore, south of Rome, when 100 prisoners barricaded themselves into a section of the prison.
The inmates made a list of demands, including the right to have visits from their loved ones, and tried to negotiate with the prison management, the Agi news agency reported.
The decision to introduce a lockdown was leaked to the press on Saturday, leading to mass panic.
Thousands rushed to train stations in an attempt to flee the region, after details of the decree were revealed by Corriere della Sera late on Saturday afternoon.
Others took to their cars in a desperate attempt to escape the crackdown.
Travellers arriving by overnight trains from Lombardy were met by dozens of police officers and medics wearing masks and hazmat suits in Salerno, Campania, as authorities tried to stop people from spreading the virus to the south.
Roberto Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, told the Guardian: “What happened with the news leak has caused many people to try to escape, causing the opposite effect of what the decree is trying to achieve.
“Unfortunately some of those who fled will be infected with the disease.”
The decree will see police and armed forces patrolling Lombardy’s access points, such as train stations and motorway entrances and exits, as well as border areas of the 14 provinces under lockdown.
Anyone trying to break the quarantine will face fines and up to three months in prison.
However, exemptions will be made for people who need to leave the affected areas for emergency reasons.
Globally, the total number of reported cases currently stands at 110,047. with 3,828 deaths.