Here's why the coronavirus is so bad in Italy, and how the lockdown could affect you

Two women wearing a protective facemask walk across the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Duomo, in central Milan, on February 24, 2020 Two women wearing a protective facemask walk across the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Duomo, in central Milan, on February 24, 2020
Two women wearing a protective facemask walk across the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Duomo, in central Milan, on February 24, 2020

The latest area to be affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 - the coronavirus that's spreading across the world - is Italy.

Initially, quarantine-like restrictions were in place in northern regions, but now they have been extended to cover the entirety of the country.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered that the people of Italy stay home in order to combat the spread of the virus in a television address.

Conte promised “massive shock therapy” to overcome the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Britons can still leave, but Mr Conte said that people living in Italy would only be permitted to travel for work or family emergencies, as the death toll in the country surged.

Here's everything you need to know:

What's the official travel advice?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently "advise against all but essential travel to Italy, due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) and in line with various controls and restrictions imposed by the Italian authorities."

"Additional restrictions include the closure of museums, cultural institutions and the suspension of all public gatherings and sporting events.

"Religious ceremonies and funerals are suspended. Ski facilities are closed. Childcare facilities, schools and universities are closed until 3 April.

"Restaurants and bars remain open with restricted hours and reduced seating."

What if I need to leave Italy?

If you're already in Italy, the FCO reassure that "British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction."

"Airports remain open throughout Italy," they say, "however, airline schedules are subject to change and some flights are being cancelled. Travellers are advised to check flight details with airlines."

If you are returning from the country, then you will need to "stay indoors and avoid contact with other people," even if "you do not have symptoms."

British Airways has cancelled all fights to and from Italy after the country was put on lockdown over coronavirus.

A spokesperson for BA said: "In light of the Italian government’s announcement and the UK government’s official travel advice, we have contacted all customers who are due to travel today (10 March)."

How many cases are there in Italy?

At the current time of writing, Italian officials have reported 9,142 confirmed cases of the virus.

There have been 463 deaths, and 724 recoveries.

Italy now has the highest number of confirmed infections outside China.

It has overtaken South Korea, where the total number of cases is almost 7,400.

Why is it so bad there?

You may be wondering just why Italy is the current centre of the virus' spread.

An Italian health specialist has suggested that there may be a link between Italy's large elderly population and the fact that the country has been so badly affected by the spread of the virus.

The majority of people who have died from the coronavirus in Italy have been between 63 and 95 with underlying illnesses.

Prof Massimo Galli, the director of infectious diseases at Sacco hospital in Milan, told The Guardian: “Italy is a country of old people. The elderly with previous pathologies are notoriously numerous here.

"I think this could explain why we are seeing more serious cases of coronavirus here, which I repeat, in the vast majority of cases start mildly and cause few problems, especially in young people and certainly in children.

“Our life expectancy is among the highest in the world. But unfortunately, in a situation like this, old people are more at risk of a serious outcome.”

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.

Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness.

Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly.

The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS