All of Italy under lockdown, reeling financial markets and rioting prisoners made clear on Monday how the global coronavirus epidemic was extending its reach into all aspects of social and economic life.
Major European stock markets dived more than 7%, Japanese indexes fell over 5% and U.S. markets sank over 7% after Saudi Arabia launched an oil price war with Russia that sent investors already spooked by the coronavirus epidemic running for the exits.
In Italy, scene of Europe’s worst outbreak with infections and deaths still soaring, the government took its most drastic steps yet to contain the outbreak, affecting some 60 million people. It ordered everyone across the country not to move around other than for work and emergencies, banned all public gatherings and suspended sporting events, including soccer matches.
Deaths in Milan’s Lombardy region - which had already been on lockdown with cinemas, theaters and museums closed and restaurant hours restricted - jumped 25% in a day to 333, while the national death toll soared by 97 to 463, the highest in the world after China.
Pope Francis has urged Catholic priests on Tuesday to “have the courage” to go out and help those sickened by the novel coronavirus, hours after Italy was placed on a nationwide lockdown.
“Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and visit the sick... and to accompany the medical staff and volunteers in the work they do,” the pontiff said during a mass in Vatican City.
St Peter’s Square in the Vatican was almost empty on Tuesday with only a few dozen people walking around, most of them without masks.
The Italian government has asked for people not to travel if they can avoid it and to avoid contact with the sick.
Officials passed a decree late Monday extending nationwide restrictive measures that had been put in place at the weekend in the hardest-hit northern regions.
The restrictions - including checkpoints on roads and in railway stations - are set to remain until April 3.
Italy is the epicentre of the European virus outbreak with more than 9,000 cases and 463 deaths so far.