SOAVE, Italy, March 10 ------ The battle to halt the coronavirus brought sweeping new restrictions Monday, with Italy expanding a travel ban to the entire country, Israel ordering all visitors quarantined just weeks before Passover and Easter, and Spain closing all schools in and around its capital. Even as workers in Beijing returned to their jobs and new infections in China continued to subside, Italians struggled to navigate the rapidly changing parameters of the nation’s self-imposed lockdown.
The fears fanned by the virus sent Wall Street stocks tumbling to their biggest drop since 2008, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 7.8 percent. Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War. “Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The great advantage we have is the decisions we all make as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.”
More than 113,000 people have tested positive for the disease and over 3,900 people with the virus have died, most of them in China. More than 62,000 people have already recovered. But Italy’s intensifying struggle to halt the virus’ spread emerged as a cautionary tale. “There won’t be just a red zone,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, in announcing that a lockdown covering about 16 million people in the north would be expanded to the entire country starting Tuesday.
Italian doctors celebrated one small victory after the first patient diagnosed with the illness, a 38-year-old Unilever worker, was moved out of intensive care and began breathing on his own. But the virus’ rapid spread was forcing them to operate like war-time medics, triaging patients to decide who get access to scarce ICU beds. “Unfortunately we’re only at the beginning,” said Dr. Massimo Galli, head of infectious disease at Milan’s Sacco hospital.
Travelers at Milan’s main train station had to sign police forms self-certifying that they are traveling for “proven work needs,’’ situations of necessity, health reasons or to return home. They also needed to provide identity documents, contact numbers and an exact reason for travel from the financial hub. Across Italy, museums and archaeological sites were closed, weddings were canceled and restaurants were told to keep patrons a meter (more than 3 feet) apart. Officials ordered ski lifts across the country to close, even those outside the quarantine zone, after students whose classes were canceled began organizing trips to winter resorts.
Italy reported a big jump in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 9,172 cases and 463 deaths, more than any country except China. Inmates at more than two dozen Italian prisons rioted against restrictions on family visits and other containment measures, and six died after they broke into the infirmary and overdosed on methadone. Pope Francis celebrated Mass alone at the Vatican hotel where he lives, live-streaming the event, but he did resume some meetings. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness get better in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered. But that came only after Chinese officials put massive quarantines in place. Around the virus spreads, officials are embracing less strict, but still aggressive measures. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government has decided to quarantine anyone arriving from overseas for 14 days. The decision comes barely a month before Easter and Passover, typically a busy travel period.