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Italy’s coronavirus outbreak sparks ‘a lot of panic’

The coronavirus has now spread to 107 countries and there are close to 108,000 cases worldwide. Italy is one of the hotspots, where more than 230 people have died from the virus. In response, Italy's government this weekend issued a quarantine restricting travel for more than 16 million people in portions of the country. Special correspondent Christopher Livesay joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more now on the situation in Italy, NewsHour special correspondent Christopher Livesay joins us now via Skype from Rome. Christopher, you were just traveling here before these quarantines went into place. What's it like out there?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Well, Italians are extremely nervous. You had this announcement that came through unofficial channels. There was a government decree that wanted to limit travel. However, that was leaked to the Italian press before it was supposed to be made public. And it sparked a lot of panic. You had a lot of Italians in Milan. That's the industrial hub of the economy here. A lot of people work there, but are actually originally from the south. So some of them are storming train stations last night thinking that this was the last train out of town. Meanwhile, this this travel ban, this quarantine stretches all the way to places like Venice. And that's a city that's been reeling from high, high flooding that really tanked its tourism economy. And now with this latest quarantine on travel, it's just tanking the tourist economy. They fear that they're going to lose more than a billion dollars. So people are extremely nervous, Hari.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about just for their health? I mean, are people heeding the warnings? Are they keeping kind of a social distance or are they washing their hands? Do you see people aware of this?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    You know, I saw Italians taking this in stride when the the outbreak first began, or at least when it was first spotted on February 21st. There was a lot of skepticism. Italians tend to be rather cynical, so they didn't necessarily trust the government when it was making these warnings. That's changing now, especially because in Lombardy, the region around Mahlon, you had one hundred and thirteen people die in the last 24 hours alone. And so with this spike, people seem to be catching on and realizing that this is not something to just joke around with. And that's that's a really hard adjustment for Italians. When you consider how affectionate Italians are and when they see friends and sometimes even strangers there, they're quick to kiss each other on the cheek. And and shaking hands is definitely normal. So to not be affectionate when greeting people. It just goes against everything that that makes somebody Italian. But that there's going to have to be some major lifestyle change. You have the president, you have the health minister. All local authorities are constantly telling Italians, we have to be very careful, maintain one meter distance. That's a little more than art between each other at all times.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is a weekend when this quarantine went into effect. How are they planning to implement it, let's say Monday morning? People wake up. Do they get to their jobs? Does trade slow down? How do they get groceries?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Well, so, I mean, trade is going to slow down. That's for sure. It's to be determined how much that's that's going to be. The government had already anticipated that Italy alone was was going to lose more than a billion dollars. But that was before this this massive quarantine went into place. And so it's really too soon to predict what kind of impact this is going to have on the economy. Now, they are supposed to be allowing local commuting. So local commuter trains and cars within this quarantine area are supposed to be able to circulate. However, if you want to go in or out of this quarantine zone, you're supposed to be stopped by police. You're supposed they're supposed to be checkpoints set up. But this is a really big area. I mean, it covers about a quarter of the Italian population is located up here. It's rather sprawling. And we're talking about a liberal democracy here that hasn't impose these types of travel restrictions at this scale since World War Two. It's a liberal democracy that's known for having, you know, relatively free spirited would say unruly people living here. It's a lot different than China, which is much more thought authoritarian and where we saw them able to shut down entire cities with millions of people. I do want to say easily, but they were able to do it with a level of efficiency that a lot of people are are dubious about Italy being able to replicate.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Chris, here in the US. There's a big conversation right now about testing kids and the progress that the U.S. government is making on getting those out there. What's the response been like from the Italian government in figuring out who has this and who doesn't?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Italy has been very aggressive, Hari, in trying to diagnose this outbreak, diagnose people who might have the Corona virus in the first week of detection back in late February, the government made sure that more than 3000 people were tested. Now today they've got close to 50 thousand people who've been tested. They've led Europe in the in the fight to detect how many people have it. So the questions surrounding this outbreak, you know, there's a high number of people who have it. But there's another question of will. Is it just a matter of detection? Because Italy has been so, so aggressive. In fact, the World Health Organization said just yesterday that Italy is a model that the rest of the world should be following when it comes to detecting and attacking the Corona virus.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Chris Livesay joining us tonight via Skype from Italy. Thanks so much.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Thanks, Hari.

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