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Italy says all stores except pharmacies, food markets will be closed in response to coronavirus

A woman walked past the Basilica of Santo Stefano, in Bologna, Italy, on Wednesday.
A woman walked past the Basilica of Santo Stefano, in Bologna, Italy, on Wednesday.Massimo Paolone/LaPresse Massimo Paolone/LaPresse/Associated Press

Italy’s premier says all stores except pharmacies and grocery stores are being closed nationwide in response to the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Premier Giuseppe Conte thanked the public for cooperating with the already unprecedented travel and social restrictions that took effect Tuesday.

But he said Wednesday night on Facebook Live that Italy must “go another step” by closing all shops and businesses except for food stores, pharmacies and other shops selling ‘'essential'’ items.

The tighter restrictions on daily life are the government’s latest effort to respond to the fast-moving crisis that took Italy’s number of cases from three to 12,462 in less than three weeks.

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ROME (AP) — Italy weighed imposing even tighter restrictions on daily life and announced billions in financial relief Wednesday to cushion economic shocks from the coronavirus, its latest efforts to adjust to the fast-evolving health crisis that silenced the usually bustling heart of the Catholic faith, St. Peter’s Square.

In Iran, one of the world's hardest-hit countries, the senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he would consider requests from Lombardy, Italy's hardest-hit region, to toughen the already extraordinary anti-virus lockdown that was extended nationwide Tuesday. Lombardy wants to shut down nonessential businesses and reduce public transportation.

These additional measures would be on top of travel and social restrictions that imposed an eerie hush on cities and towns across the country from Tuesday. Police enforced rules that customers stay 1 meter (3 feet) apart and ensured that businesses closed by 6 p.m.

Milan shopkeeper Claudia Sabbatini said she favored stricter measures. Rather than run the risk of customers possibly infecting each other in her children's clothing store, she decided to close it.

A man and a girl on a scooter are backdropped by a Lombardy region campaign advertising reading in Italian ' Coronavirus let's stop it together ', at the Porta Nuova business district in Milan on Wednesday.
A man and a girl on a scooter are backdropped by a Lombardy region campaign advertising reading in Italian ' Coronavirus let's stop it together ', at the Porta Nuova business district in Milan on Wednesday.Luca Bruno/Associated Press

"I cannot have people standing at a distance. Children must try on the clothes. We have to know if they will fit,’’ she said.

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Conte said fighting Italy's more than 10,000 infections — the biggest outbreak outside of China — must not come at the expense of civil liberties. His caution suggested that Italy is unlikely to adopt the draconian quarantine measures that helped China push down new infections from thousands per day to a trickle now and allowed its manufacturers to restart production lines.

China's new worry is that the coronavirus could re-enter from abroad. Beijing’s city government announced that all overseas visitors will be quarantined for 14 days. Of 24 new cases that China reported Wednesday, five arrived from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,300 have died.

But the vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

A man disinfected a shop door entrance in the town of Codogno, in the region of Lombardia, northern Italy.
A man disinfected a shop door entrance in the town of Codogno, in the region of Lombardia, northern Italy.Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/Associated Press

The report by Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency that Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri had contracted the virus followed days of speculation about his health after Jahangiri was not seen in photos of recent top-level meetings. The country's ministers of cultural heritage and tourism, and industry, mines and business were also reported diagnosed with COVID-19

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For the global economy, the repercussions were profound, with increasing concerns of wealth- and job-wrecking recessions. U.S. stocks sank again in early trading Wednesday, wiping out most of a huge rally from a day earlier as Wall Street continues to reel from worries about the coronavirus.

The Wall Street plunge followed a steep decline by markets across Asia, where governments there and elsewhere have announced billions of dollars in stimulus funds, including packages revealed in Japan on Tuesday and Australia on Wednesday.

Italy's government announced Wednesday it was earmarking 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to boost anti-virus efforts and soften economic blows, including delaying tax and mortgage payments by families and businesses.

Britain’s government announced a 30 billion-pound ($39 billion) economic stimulus package and the Bank of England slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25%.

Normal life was increasingly being upended.

With police barring access to St. Peter’s Square, emptying it of tens of thousands of people who usually come on Wednesdays for the weekly papal address, Pope Francis instead live-streamed prayers from the privacy of his Vatican library.

A view of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday. Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in the privacy of his library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures.
A view of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday. Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in the privacy of his library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures.Andrew Medichini/Associated Press

In France, the government's weekly Cabinet meeting was moved to a bigger room so President Emmanuel Macron and his ministers could sit at least 1 meter (more than 3 feet) apart.

Athletes who usually thrive on crowds grew increasingly wary of them. Spanish soccer club Getafe said it wouldn't travel to Italy to play Inter Milan, preferring to forfeit their Europa League match rather than risk infections.

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Olympic champion skier Mikaela Shiffrin said she would be limiting contact with fans and fellow competitors, tweeting that “this means no selfies, autographs, hugs, high fives, handshakes or kiss greetings.”

In the U.S., the caseload passed 1,000, and outbreaks on both sides of the country stirred alarm.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are vying to take on President Donald Trump in the presidential election, abruptly canceled rallies Tuesday and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be impacted, too. Trump's campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, although Vice President Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis.”

In Europe, deaths soared among Italy's aging population. Authorities said Italy has suffered 631 deaths, with an increase of 168 fatalities recorded Tuesday. In Spain, the number of cases surged past the 2,000-mark on Wednesday. Belgium, Bulgaria, Sweden and Albania announced their first virus-related deaths.

“Right now, the epicenter — the new China — is Europe,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that if the virus is not halted by vaccines and cures, up to 70% of the country’s 83 million people could ultimately become infected, citing estimates that epidemiologists have been putting forward for several weeks. Germany has some 1,300 confirmed infection. Merkel’s comments fit a pattern of government officials using sobering warnings to try to get people to protect themselves, most notably by washing their hands and not gathering in large numbers.

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In Washington, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the virus outbreak in the U.S. was only going to get worse. "I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now," Fauci told the House Oversight and Reform Committee adding that how much worse depends on the ability to curtail the influx of travelers who may be bringing the disease into the country and the ability of states and communities to contain outbreaks.

Dozens of cases have been tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states were announcing curbs on large events. Colleges emptied their classrooms as they moved to online instruction and uncertainty surrounded the upcoming opening of the major league baseball season and college basketball’s championships. Even the famed buffets of Las Vegas were affected, with some of the Strip’s biggest being closed as a precaution.

“It’s terrifying,” said Silvana Gomez, a student at Harvard University, where undergraduates were told to leave campus by Sunday. “I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”


Barry reported from Soave, Italy; Leicester reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Pan Pylas in London; LLazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Joe McDonald and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Tales Azzoni in Madrid and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak