Italy has just quarantined the north of the country in Milan, Venice, Lombardy and dozens of adjoining provinces in order to contain the coronavirus. The quarantine and lockdown will last until April 3 and went into effect Sunday, March 8. According to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte the situation is a “national emergency.”

The northern provinces of Venice, Parma and Modena — which generate almost half of all of Italy’s economy — will be quarantined in addition to numerous others in the northern industrial heartland, likely to deal a significant blow to Italy’s already struggling economy. Italy has the most coronavirus cases other than China with over 5,800 confirmed cases and 233 deaths. Over 100,000 have gotten coronavirus globally with more than 3,000 deaths.

Who Will the Italian Quarantine Impact?

As Eric Sylvers reported for Wall Street Journal, this quarantine will apply to over 17 million people, which is almost a third of Italy’s 60.4 million people. These are the most dramatic measures any European nation has taken to stop the spread of coronavirus. All travel in or out of the quarantine zone will be strictly prohibited and enforced by police and military, with time in prison and hefty penalties and fines for anyone who breaks the quarantine. Although this move still pales in comparison to China quarantining 60 million people, it is a major step for a Western nation and shows just how seriously Italywith its significant elderly population—is taking the coronavirus.

The quarantine will also include strict regulations about mass gatherings, travel even inside the restricted zones and postponement of daily work. Recreation will be shut down, as will museums. Churches will be closed for funerals and weddings and all schools and universities are already closed down to deal with the virus. Mass was held outdoors in some parts of Rome today.

Italians Rushed to Get To South Before Quarantine

As reported by Il Giornale on March 8, many Italians rushed to the train station in Milan at night to catch the night train south before today’s quarantine hit. The overcrowded train left the station with people sitting on the floor who will be quarantined when they reach the south for a mandatory 14 days and were checked along the way for any symptoms.

Others in northern cities such as Padua rushed to catch the last train south, including university students frantic about getting home before being stuck away from home in the quarantine zone. However not everyone was enthused about this development with, for example, the governor of the southern city of Puglia Michele Emiliano demanded people stop trying to come south and told them “get off at the first railway station, don’t take planes to Bari and Brindisi.”

The quarantine will block all movement into and out of the locked down northern regions, although Conte did say: “exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.”

Italy’s Dilemma

As Italy’s health system sags under the immense weight of the sudden health crisis, the government is faced with a very tough dilemma. It must take major steps to contain and prevent the spread of coronavirus but at the same time do its best to keep the economy afloat. Italy is already approaching recession and this quarantine could be what breaks the camel’s back.

Nonetheless, Rome must put public health above the economy, of course, and coronavirus has the potential to become very serious with a mortality rate of around 1 percent, which is almost ten times worse than regular flu. Taking into account Italy’s large elderly population and how fast coronavirus spreads these containment measures are necessary. The danger now is that Italy’s health system could be simply overburdened beyond its capacity.

Pope Francis also reassured people, telling them “I am near in prayer to persons who are suffering from the current epidemic of coronavirus and to all those caring for them.”

Perhaps it is time to pray, although even the Vatican apparently is not safe, having just confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Friday.