How coronavirus overwhelmed Italy, with 4,000 deaths in one month
ROME - Police driving through the center of Rome blast loudspeaker messages telling people to stay indoors. The few who venture out are liable to be charged with crimes if their reasons are deemed frivolous. Most Italians have internalized the lockdown with a wartime-level commitment, scolding and shaming those who break the rules.
Still, even that hasn't been enough.
A month after first cases exploded into view in northern Italy, the coronavirus has killed more than 4,000 Italians, including 627 reported on Friday alone. It has sickened tens of thousands more, and swiftly rendered the country unrecognizable - somber, desolate and scared. But for all the life-disrupting measures Italy has taken to slow the virus, it continues to spread and kill at an alarming clip.
The feeling is that battle against the virus, brutal and consuming as it has been, is only beginning.
As the first Western country to deal with a major outbreak, Italy has become a grim symbol of the virus' dangers and the difficulty of contending with it. While other European countries and some U.S. states have borrowed Italy's stay-home strategy, Italy is learning that the strategy does not work quickly, even when broadly adhered to.
Ten days since the beginning of a strict nationwide lockdown, the number of known coronavirus cases continue to rise some 15 percent every day. While that is shy of exponential growth, it is enough to overwhelm hospitals and morgues. More people are getting sick than can be cared for.
The lockdown, which included restrictions on travel and the closure of most stores aside from supermarkets and pharmacies, was initially put in place through April 3. But Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made it clear in an interview with the Corriere della Sera that the measures would go on longer.
Conte said the "restrictions are working." But even once the pace of transmission starts to wane - hopefully days from now, he said - "we won't be able to immediately resume life as it was."
Some politicians in Italy's northern provinces have pressed for even harsher measures. They want narrower hours for supermarkets, a wider closure of factories and a mass-scale military deployment to keep people off the streets. Several leaders in the north have turned their ire toward people who continue to exercise outdoors, and have called on Conte to place a ban on jogging.
In an interview, the vice governor of the Lombardy region, Fabrizio Sala, said anonymized data provided by telecommunications companies indicated that 60 percent of all movement in the region had stopped, compared to a normal period before the virus. But even so, he said, too many people were leaving the house.
"People should stay at home more," he said.
Polls indicate that the lockdown has wide support, and many of the Italians leaving their homes are doing so for essential work. Still, tens of thousands have been cited by police for breaking the lockdown rules.
In recognition of the limits on how democracies can contend with the virus, Italy has not used some of the more heavy-handed or invasive tools used successfully by China - including sustained monitoring outside apartment complexes and apps that log location and body temperature.
Italy's biggest mistake, virologists say, was not instituting the nationwide lockdown more swiftly.
It is unclear if such a move, made weeks earlier, would have been as widely accepted - because the horrors of the virus had not yet come fully into view. Still, by the time Conte formally made his decree on March 10, the virus's explosive growth had been set in motion.