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16 million in Italy under lockdown as COVID-19 deaths surge to 366, global death toll at 3 893

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The global death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak has jumped to 3 893 and the number of cases to 111 853 on Monday, March 9, 2020, with Italy overtaking South Korea as the country with most fatalities after China. With this, the Italian government has placed 16 million people in lockdown– almost a quarter of the nation's population.

Italy's death count now stands at 366, making it the second country with the most fatalities following China with 3 120. Iran also saw a sharp increase in fatalities with a total of 237.

Following the alarming surge in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has signed the decree Sunday, putting millions of people in the northern region under lockdown as part of its drastic measures to contain the spread of the fatal virus.

"We want to guarantee the health of our citizens. We understand that these measures will impose sacrifices, sometimes small and sometimes very big," the PM said.

The lockdown is in force until April 3, which bars people from entering or leaving wide swaths of areas in the north without a valid reason.

The same restrictions apply to 14 provinces including Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, Treviso, and Venice.

Public establishments such as cinemas, museums, and theaters will also be shut down nationwide. Conte also announced the closure of nightclubs, gyms, schools, universities, and other venues across the country.

About 10 million people are affected by the lockdown in the Lombardy region which includes capital Milan, plus six million in other provinces including Venice, Parma, and Modena– overall amounting to a quarter of the nation's population.

The health system is under huge strain in Lombardy, where victims are being treated along corridors in hospitals. The head of southern Puglia also pleaded people planning on traveling there from areas in lockdown to "stop and turn around", telling them, "don't bring the epidemic to Puglia."

Italy's measures earned praises from the World Health Organization's (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who lauded the "bold, courageous steps aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus and protecting their country."

"WHO stands in solidarity with Italy and is here to continue supporting you," the chief added.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, aired his message and prayer via live stream for the first time as he expressed solidarity with the victims. "I join my brother bishops in encouraging the faithful to live this difficult moment with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervor of charity."

However, the new restrictions did not sit well with inmates across the country, sparking protests at 27 jails nationwide that started on Sunday. Visitation rights were curtailed, leading to clashes and riots that killed at least six prisoners while 50 others have escaped.

In Salerno, about 200 detainees vandalized the first floor of the building, then barricaded themselves on the roof. Protests spread to nearby Poggioreale prison, as well as Pavia, Frosinone, Vercelli, and Alessandra, among others.

In Milan, inmates set fire to a portion of the San Vittore prison and then held a protest on the roof. In Modena, six people had been pronounced dead at the Saint Anna penitentiary, while in Apulia, dozens of inmates managed to escape.

As part of the preventive actions as well, Italy's national carrier Alitalia said it would cancel all operations from Malpensa from Monday, and Linate would only serve domestic flights. However, international flights to and from Rome would continue. 

Borders with Switzerland and Austria remain open as the officials in the country said they were closely monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, Iran also saw a sharp increase in fatalities with a total of 237 and 7 161 cases, following Italy.

On Monday, the UK confirmed its fourth fatality as cases in the country rose to 321; Germany reported its first two confirmed deaths as well, with cases standing at 1 164; the U.S. has 566 cases, including 142 in New York as announced by governor Andrew Cuomo; Argentina and the Netherlands registered their first fatalities respectively; and a number of countries and territories reported their first cases including Albania, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Moldova, and the Maldives.

Featured image credit: Syed Zaheer/Flickr

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