The Italian government is considering tightening up some existing quarantine restrictions this week, as some 53,000 people in the country have been charged by police in the past eight days with breaking the existing rules.
Italians have been told not to go outside unless srictly necessary, and all shops other than food shops and pharmacies have been ordered to close.
Italy has now recorded some 41,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in total, and after another 427 fatalities on Thursday, more deaths connected to the virus than China.
Police have so far cited 51,892 people for breaking the quarantine rules, while another 1,126 were charged with making false statements to police.
More than 8,200 people were charged on Wednesday March 18th alone for not complying with the lockdown rules, the interior ministry said on Thursday.
Police have checked 1.2 million people since the nationwide quarantine measures came into force on Tuesday March 10th.
Italian police man a road checkpoint. Photo: AFP
Italy is imposing 206-euro ($222) fines for anyone found wandering the streets without a valid reason, such as grocery shopping or getting to and from work.
The governent decree also states that those breaking quarantine rules could face a three-month prison term – or potentially a much longer term for more serious offences.
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One of the most serious cases was in Sciacca, Sicily, when a man who had tested positive for the virus was found out shopping, despite having been ordered to self-isolate at home.
Prosecutors are now investigating the man, who is accused of “aiding the epidemic”. If convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison.
Also in Sicily, some 40 people were charged with breaking quarantine rules after attending a funeral procession on Tuesday March 10th, the first day of the nationwide lockdown.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday that the government was considering tightening restrictions, and will be extending the lockdown period.
He did not give a date or any further details on the extension of the measures.
“In the next few days we will make the appropriate choices,” he said
Conte said he agreed with those mayors who have also closed parks in their cities, saying “doing sport is another way of transforming public places into assembly points, which is inadmissible.”
“At the moment there are no new far-reaching restrictive measures, but if the prohibitions are not respected we will have to act. “
Headlines in Italian newspapers on Tuesday March 10th. Photo: AFP
Police in various Italian cities have been reading out the rules over megaphones since lockdown began, urging everyone to “stay home and maintain distance” from each other.
There have also been frequent announcements of the rules made on the nation's radio and TV channels.
There is widespread support for the quarantime measures among Italians.
A poll published in La Repubblica newspaper on Thursday found 96 percent of all Italians viewed the closure of most business and all schools and public institutions “positively” or “very positively” and just four percent said they were opposed.
Some in Italy have complained of overzealous police officers telling them to go home when they were not actually breaking the rules – for example, when walking to the supermarket, or exercising outdoors.
There has been further confusion as some towns or regions have imposed their own additional rules on top of the national ones. On Monday, some seaside towns in Liguria closed down walkways and beaches after local authorities said crowds descended over the weekend.
While individual police officers or municipalities may be interpreting the restrictions in their own way, the only way to be sure of avoiding problems is to follow the rules.
Here's a quick recap of the main restrictions in place:
There is a complete ban on public gatherings
People are told not to go outside unless strictly necessary, for example to buy food or go to work.
You now need to take a completed and signed “self declaration” form with you whenever you leave the house explaining your reason for doing so. (Here's the form and how to complete it.)
All shops are closed other than supermarkets, food shops and pharmacies.
All other businesses including cafes, restaurants, gyms, cinemas and theatres are closed to the public
All schools, universities, museums and tourist attractions are closed
Employers are asked to let staff work from home or take leave if possible.
Civil and religious ceremonies, including weddings and funerals, are prohibited.
Churches may remain open but must enforce the one-metre dstance rule. Mass is prohibited.
Sporting events of all types must be held behind closed doors or suspended
As a result of the restrictions, many airlines have cancelled flights to and from Italy and many long-distance and intercity train services have been suspended. The government has “guaranteed” that essential services such as postal deliveries, rubbish collection and local public transport will continue.
For more specfics on what you can and can't do in Italy right now under the lockdown rules, see The Local's quarantine Q&A.