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Milan on coronavirus lockdown: City of 1.2 million enters a new phase in the crisis

Supermarket staff were wearing masks, and at the cashier, people were told to stand a meter away from one another, one resident said.

MILAN — There was an eerie silence in Milan as the city woke up Sunday to the news that it had been locked down by the Italian government in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Just a few cars ran down the empty streets, and a small number of people could be seen on the pavements — scenes reminiscent of Aug. 15, when the entire city decamps to the seaside.

But after the government announced sweeping containment measures, regional railways appeared to be operating as normal and supermarkets were doing a booming trade as people looked to stock up on food and household goods.

As at many stores and markets in the city of 1.2 million, 100,000 fewer than Dallas, a person at the door wearing a mask and disposable gloves manages the long lines, allowing just 10 people in at a time.

"I had to wait 15 minutes to get in," Luca Galli, a lawyer, 48, said in an interview. However, he added, "once inside, I could easily shop."

He said that all the supermarket staff were wearing masks and that, at the cashier, people were told to stand a meter away from one another.

Image: Customers in Milan
Customers wait in line to pay at a supermarket in Milan on Saturday, March 7, 2020. Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

The Italian government has given little guidance, although it said the lockdown in the northern Lombardy region, where Milan is situated, would last until at least Apr. 3.

About 10 million people live in the area. Another 6 million in other provinces, including Venice, Parma and Modena, were also placed under quarantine.

Galli, like many, said it was unclear how food will be transported into the city.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday that people will be restricted from entering areas designated as "red zones," except for ''undeferrable work needs or emergency situations',' until at least early April.

The measures were put in place as more than 230 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Italy and as a total of 5,883, people have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness. Close to half of them — 2,651 — have been hospitalized.

At the Stazione Centrale railway station — one the city's main transport hubs — life appeared much more normal. Trains were running as scheduled, even those traveling to other regions of Italy. No one appeared to be checking the passengers.

Marta Torres, 30, a caregiver, said she had arrived from Pavia, a small city around 25 miles south of Milan, also in the Lombardy region.

"No one asked us anything," she said.

In a nearby park, psychologist Chiara Dionigi, 37, blamed the government for "mismanaging" the emergency.

She said that after initial measures were put in place to contain the outbreak, "authorities should have done more to make people observe the restrictions."

She added that "people should have started behaving in a different way."

Her husband, Alberto Righini, 45, agreed. Accusing the government of sending mixed messages, he said he could not understand why it had encouraged people to work from home only for it to tell people later that it was fine to congregate in public.

On Sunday, however, that message did appear to have resonated with the public.

In Milan's famous Duomo Square, the cafes were empty. Only a small group of tourists walked into the main entrance of the Gothic cathedral.

Carmela Golgi, 22, arrived in the city to study two weeks before the epidemic started.

"I couldn't imagine this would happen," Golgi said.

Of the new restrictions however, Golgi added: "I'm not scared, and nor is my family at home."