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Italy locks down northern region in response to coronavirus outbreak

Some 16 million people live in the quarantined area which includes Milan and Venice

ITALY-HEALTH-VIRUS Photo by ANDREA PATTARO/AFP via Getty Images

A massive region in northern Italy that includes Milan and Venice is under government-ordered lockdown as officials struggle to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the New York Times reports.

“We are facing an emergency,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday in an early-morning press conference. The restrictions on travel throughout the region, which includes some 16 million people, are “very rigorous,” Conte added, but necessary. “This is the moment of self-responsibility,” he said.

The lockdown of the northern Lombardy region and 11 neighboring provinces will restrict movement “in and out of the territory, and also within,” the affected area. People will need to seek special permissions to travel for work or medical reasons. The Times reports that under the restrictions, funerals and cultural events are banned, and people are required to keep a distance of at least one meter (about 3 feet) between each other at public places like supermarkets and churches. Anyone with a fever is being encouraged to stay home, and anyone who has tested positive for the coronavirus is required to do so.

Anyone violating the lockdown could be subject to a fine or jail time, and police and soldiers will be enforcing the terms, the Times reports. Conte did not provide an end date for the measures when he spoke on Sunday, but an earlier report said a draft of the government decree indicated it would last until April 3rd.

Update March 8th, 8:35 AM ET: Added latest information and comment from the Italian Prime Minister