Panic buying in Italy as nationwide coronavirus lockdown gets underway

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ivor Bennett

Panic buying erupted in Italy overnight after the country's premier introduced a nationwide lockdown to combat coronavirus.

The sweeping restrictions - initially imposed in the north - were extended after the death toll from Covid-19 rose by 97 people in a single day to hit 463.

The number of confirmed cases in Italy jumped by 1,807 to reach 9,172.

Italy has now had the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside of the respiratory disease's epicentre - China.

Some 60 million people are now facing travel restrictions and a ban on mass gatherings - including sporting events - which will be in place from Tuesday until April 3, the country's Prime Minister Giuseppe Contehe told the nation.

The Italian government has been forced to assure its citizens that supermarkets will remain open and stocked after panic buying erupted following the new measure - sparking overnight runs on 24-hour markets.

At a store in central-north Rome, entry and exit had to be regulated by staff as customers lined up outside with shopping trolleys.

Shoppers flood to a supermarket in Milan as new measures are introduced. Credit: AP

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Initial understanding was that the only travel allowed will be for proven work reasons, health conditions or other cases of necessity.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's office issued a clarifying statement, however, stressing that movement outside homes for "normal necessities" will be allowed, as well as for work or health reasons.

Pubs and restaurants are also affected, with businesses required to close at dusk in a bid to reduce the number of people meeting in confined spaces.

Coffee bars stayed opened, but immediately implemented new measures limiting access to only two people at a time.

Volunteers have been delivering groceries to the elderly and vulnerable, including 88-year-old Lamberto Paolucci in Rome. Credit: AP

"There won’t be just a red zone," Mr Conte said, referring to a lockdown of areas in northern Italy instituted over the weekend.

"There will be Italy" as a protected area, he added.

He continued that in order to fight coronavirus "our habits must be changed, changed now.

"We all have to give up something for the good of Italy.

"When I speak of Italy, I speak of our dear ones, of our grandparents and of our parents...

"We will succeed only if we all collaborate and we adapt right away to these more stringent norms."

The extreme measure comes just 24 hours after he imposed a virtual lockdown on the northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighbouring Veneto.

  • Europe Editor James Mates reports from Rome on day one of the full lockdown:

The stringent measures were enforced after Italy saw only superficial compliance with measures aimed at reducing social contact, including closing cinemas and theatres and banning fans from football games.

The government gradually expand the so-called red zones, but as deaths and cases of Covid-19 continued to rise, it brought in the strict controls.

In the north of country - which has been on lockdown since Sunday - people circulating inside the city and in the provinces were subjected to spot checks to ensure they had valid reasons for being out.

Violators risked up to three months jail or fines of €206 (£179). It is not yet clear if these measures have been extended to the rest of the country.

  • Residents living under the Italian lockdown outline their main concerns:

In response, the UK's Foreign Office has warned British residents against all but essential travel to Italy.

A statement from the FCO said: "The safety of British nationals is always our number one priority.

"The advice is that anyone who arrives from Italy subsequent to Italian government decision should now self-isolate for 14 days."

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte speaks during a press conference. Credit: AP

Mr Conte said a new government decree will require all people in Italy to demonstrate a need to work, health conditions or other limited reasons to travel outside the areas where they live.

The Italian Premier also warned young people against partying or socialising at large gatherings during the night.

"This nightlife… we can’t allow this any more," he said.

Pubs had been closed in northern Italy, with eateries and cafes also ordered to close at dusk - now that crackdown is extended to the entire country.

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving Milan. Credit: PA

Earlier, people at Milan Central Station were required to sign a police form, self-certifying they were travelling for "proven work needs", situations of necessity, health reasons or to return to their homes.

Mayor of the city of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori said: "Until a few days ago, the thinking was the alarm would pass in some weeks, we just need to follow the rules.

"Now we need to explain to citizens that the situation is very, very serious, our hospitals are at the point of collapse," he added.

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy. Credit: AP

People circulating inside the city and also in the provinces were subjected to spot checks to ensure they had valid reasons for being out.

Violators risk up to three months in jail and heavy penalty fines.

The message from authorities was an increasingly blunt, warning residents to "stay at home".