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Millions locked down in Italy as government announces sweeping quarantine

The decree restricts anyone from leaving or entering designated red zones except for ''undeferrable work needs or emergency situations'' starting Sunday.

More than quarter of Italy's population has been placed under lockdown by the country's government as it took drastic measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The edict applies to some 10 million residents in the Lombardy region, including the city of Milan and another 6 million in provinces throughout the country, including Venice, Parma and Modena.

As a result people will be restricted from leaving or entering designated red zones except for ''undeferrable work needs or emergency situations'' starting Sunday through at least April 3, Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte said.

The government made the announcement Sunday, after Italy saw its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since an outbreak erupted there last month.

More than 230 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, and as of Sunday, a total of 5,883, people have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness. Close to half that number — 2,651 — are hospitalized.

"We want to protect the health of all citizens," Conte said. "We are aware that this will create unease and that these measures will be a sacrifice, big and small. But this is the time to be responsible."

Image: Milan
A woman wearing a respiratory mask exits from the Palace of Justice in Milan, on Thursday.Piero Cruciatti / AFP - Getty Images

Residents everywhere were instructed to avoid public gatherings. Cinemas, theaters, dance schools, bingo halls and pubs will also be closed. Restaurants will be allowed to remain open only if they can keep a one-meter distance among customers.

Shutting down the city could have a devastating impact on local businesses. Italy is the European Union's third-largest economy, but tourism officials are projecting 32 million fewer foreign visitors and a loss of $8.1 billion in the second quarter alone.

Foreign airlines are canceling flights to Milan, and Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. is screening all passengers from flights originating in Italy and other countries with coronavirus outbreaks.

In the United States, 19 people have died from COVID-19, 16 in Washington state, two in Florida and one in California. Across the country, the overall number of cases has risen to 395 with more being added every day.

Globally, coronavirus has been reported in more than 80 countries and sickened more than 100,000 people with the majority of cases in mainland China, where the virus originated. More than 3,500 people have died since January.