At the epicentre of Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus to date, daily lives have taken on an eerie, aimless calm. It's at night that the worry takes over.
"You can hear the ambulances coming and going, and maybe they're going to sick people who have nothing to do with the coronavirus but it worries you just the same," said Davide Benelli from his home in Casalpusterlengo, a town of around 15,000 in Italy's quarantined "red zone" where the disease broke out a week ago.
People in the zone wake up to closed cafes, restaurants and schools; farmers worry that planting should be starting around now. Parents try to keep their children amused with games or jobs around the house, or go on bike rides or drives to break the boredom.
Coronavirus across the globe
Coronavirus across the globe
A health worker wearing a protective suit prepares to enter two apartment buildings in Kuala Lumpur on April 8, 2020, after they were cordoned off due to a number of cases of individuals with COVID-19 novel coronavirus at the premises. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP) (Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff member from Jilin Province tears up during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
08 April 2020, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne: A man is jogging in the morning in the Rheinauhafen. To contain the coronavirus, NRW has banned all accumulations of three or more people in public. Photo: Oliver Berg/dpa (Photo by Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images)
People, wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, waiting to renew their visas at the Government Immigration Center in Bangkok on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) (Photo by LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)
OSAKA, JAPAN - APRIL 08: A businessman wears a face mask as he walks through the almost empty station entrance gate usually busy with passengers on April 8, 2020 in Osaka, Japan. Japans Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, yesterday declared a state of emergency that will cover 7 of Japans 47 prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, as the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak continues to spread in the country. The move will allow affected prefectures to take measures including expropriating private land and buildings and requisitioning medical supplies and food from companies that refuse to sell them. Tokyo recorded 80 new infections on Tuesday bringing the total in the capital to 1,196 with 85 deaths nationwide. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)
Year 2 NSW public school student, completing her daily home work during homeschooling on April 07, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. As COVID-19 restrictions continue schools move towards online learning through dedicated NSW student portal. The NSW education department has set up an online hub learning from home portal where students, teachers and parents can access learning materials. Schools have been preparing packages of work for several days to ensure access to online learning, through a range of technology platforms. (Photo by Izhar Khan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A woman wearing a face mask amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus walks past a graffiti of wings in Tokyo on April 7, 2020. - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will on April 7 declare a state of emergency in parts of the country, including Tokyo, over a spike in coronavirus infections. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP) (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is taking charge of the Government's response to the coronavirus crisis after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care Monday, arrives at 10 Downing Street, London. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
A doctor wearing a protective suit takes a swab from a woman, who is under home quarantine, to test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, India, April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave
A young girl and her grandpa wearing face masks, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus, play at a park in the Muzha District in Taipei on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP) (Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images)
Health workers wearing protective clothing are seen in front of the City One Condominium in Kuala Lumpur on April 6, 2020, after it was cordoned off due to a number of cases of individuals with COVID-19 novel coronavirus at the premises. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP) (Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images)
BANJUL, GAMBIA - APRIL 04: A checkpoint is built up as streets are nearly empty due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Banjul, Gambia on April 04, 2020. (Photo by Yusupha Sama/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - APRIL 06: Foreign workers are seen at the corridor of the S11 Dormitory at Punggol on April 6, 2020 in Singapore. About 20,000 foreign workers at the Westlite Toh Guan dormitory and S11 Dormitory at Punggol are in quarantine after the dormitories saw an increase in numbers in new COVID-19 infections. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
A mother wearing a facemasks and gloves holds her son after completing 14-days of quarantine at a hotel during government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, on the outskirts of Srinagar on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP) (Photo by TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP via Getty Images)
A medic of the Elmhurst Hospital Center medical team reacts after stepping outside of the emergency room, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Sanitarios de primeros auxilios de ProtecciÃ³n Civil colocan una mascarilla de oxÃgeno a un hombre presuntamente infectado por el coronavirus, el 3 de abril de 2020 en ParÃs (AFP/Archivos | Lucas Barioulet)
Bodies are wrapped in protective plastic in a holding facility at Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The company is equipped to handle 40-60 cases at a time. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, it was taking care of 185 Thursday morning. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Doctors tend to a patient arriving on a wheelchair at the reception of the Emergency Room, set up in a tent, in a courtyard of the Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil, near Paris, on March 30, 2020, on the fourteenth day of a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in France. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP) (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)
Pope Francis gathers his thoughts during Palm Sunday mass behind closed doors at St. Peter's Basilica on April 5, 2020 in The Vatican, during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
A resident using an improvised face shield made from a plastic water tank to protect him from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic walks in his neighbourhood in Manila on April 5, 2020, after the government imposed enhanced quarantine measures in the city. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP) (Photo by TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images)
Personal médico retira un cadáver del Centro Médico Wyckoff Heights, el jueves 2 de abril de 2020, en Nueva York. (AP Foto/Mary Altaffer)
Shoppers wearing face masks with a cart full of food supplies wait in line to pay at a supermarket counter in Singapore, Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020. Singaporeans were seen buying food supplies in supermarkets following neighboring Malaysia's announcement of a nationwide lockdown from the coronavirus to begin Wednesday which could affect the flow of food supplies to the city state. (AP Photo/Ee Ming Toh)
04 April 2020, Lower Saxony, Hanover: Hospital beds are available in the makeshift clinic on the exhibition grounds, which was visited by Minister President Weil on the same day. The measures taken to contain the virus have currently had less effect than desired. Photo: Peter Steffen/dpa (Photo by Peter Steffen/picture alliance via Getty Images)
04 April 2020, Lower Saxony, Hanover: The makeshift clinic on the exhibition grounds, which was visited by Minister President Weil on the same day. The measures taken to contain the virus currently showed less effect than desired. Photo: Peter Steffen/dpa (Photo by Peter Steffen/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Civiles y policías inclinan la cabeza durante un homenaje a las víctimas de coronavirus en Wuhan, en la provincia de Hubei, en el centro de China, el 4 de abril de 2020. (AP Foto/Ng Han Guan)
A 'keep your distance' sign outside Boscombe pier, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
John Lewis and Waitrose staff latest to get coronavirus bonus
Aerial view of employees digging graves at Vila Formosa cemetery, in outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil on March 31, 2020. - Vila Formosa cemetery, the largest in Latin America with an area of 780 thousand square meters and where more than 1.5 million people were buried, had a 30% increase in the number of burials after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP) (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)
03 April 2020, Saxony, Dresden: ILLUSTRATION - A dental technician puts on protective goggles and wears an FFP3 respirator (posed scene) before treating a corona patient in a dental office. Photo: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Families stands and watching the burial process of their family who died by coronavirus (Covid-19) at the burial site in Jakarta, on April 2, 2020. The Covid-19 coronavirus case in Indonesia is continue to increase, as of April 2, the government officially confirmed 1.790 cases, with 112 recovered and at least 170 fatalities. Taking Indonesia to the most fatalities in South-East Asia. (Photo by Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
03 April 2020, North Rhine-Westphalia, Duesseldorf: Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU), Minister of Health of North Rhine-Westphalia, speaks during a press conference. The state government will report on the current situation and the measures taken by the state government in the context of the corona pandemic as well as on cross-border cooperation with the Netherlands and Belgium. Photo: Federico Gambarini/dpa (Photo by Federico Gambarini/picture alliance via Getty Images)
BEIJING, March 28, 2020 -- Cemetery staff members leave after helping clean the tombstone and offer flowers at the Babaoshan People's Cemetery in Beijing, capital of China, March 28, 2020. People can ask the cemetery staff to help clean tombs and offer flowers to the deceased on their behalf via the reservation service system in Beijing around the Tomb-sweeping Day, which falls on April 4 this year, as methods to prevent mass gatherings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.(Photo by Peng Ziyang/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Peng Ziyang via Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - APRIL 03, 2020: A man walks through a mobile disinfection chamber for citizens in Mamak district amid the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Altan Gocher / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Altan Gocher/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
PERTH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 03: Police patrol the High Street during the Coronavirus lockdown on April 3, 2020 in Perth,Scotland.The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 50,000 lives and infecting over 1 million people. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Medical staff carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 onboard a medicalized TGV high speed train at the railway station in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 3, 2020, prior to his evacuation, along with 23 other patients, to hospitals in Bordeaux southwestern France, where the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been limited so far. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
ACEH, INDONESIA - APRIL 3 2020 : Acehnese Muslims are seen attending Friday prayers at the Islamic Center Mosque, in Lhokseumawe, without applying social distance rules amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak, on April 3, 2020, in Aceh, Indonesia. According to the latest report, on April 3, Indonesia confirmed 1,986 cases of COVID-19, with 181 deaths and 134 declared cured.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Fachrul Reza / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Fachrul Reza/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
STRASBOURG, FRANCE - APRIL 03: An official with a protective suit carries out disinfection work for trams in central Strasbourg, eastern France on April 03, 2020. (Photo by Elyxandro Cegarra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Gardai stop and question people at a checkpoint on O'Connell Street in Dublin as the Covid-19 crisis continues. (Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)
The French amphibious helicopter carrier (PHA) Dixmude leaves the port of Toulon, on April 03, 2020, to join the West Indies and Guyana in order to provide logistical support and sanitary equipment, in particular "more than a million surgical masks", "more than 170,000 FFP2 masks" and "several hundred liters of hydroalcoholic gel", to fight the epidemic of Covid-19. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)
Spanish soldiers assemble beds at a temporary shelter for homeless people set-up at a sports center in Valencia on April 3, 2020, amid a national lockdown to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. - More than 900 people died in Spain over the past 24 hours for the second day running, government figures showed on Friday, although the rate of new infections and deaths continued to slow. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP) (Photo by JOSE JORDAN/STR/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff waits for a patient infected with the COVID-19 to be embarked onboard a medicalized TGV high speed train at the railway station in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 3, 2020, during the evacuation of 24 patients to hospitals in Bordeaux southwestern France, where the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been limited so far. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
03 April 2020, Saxony, Dresden: ILLUSTRATION - A dental assistant puts on a protective visor before treating a corona patient in a dental practice. Underneath she wears an FF3 type respirator (scene posed). Photo: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock touches his face and eye during the opening of the "NHS Nightingale" field hospital, created at the ExCeL London exhibition centre, in London on April 3, 2020, to help with the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - The new state-run National Health Service (NHS) hospital, named after trailblazing 19th-century nurse Florence Nightingale, has been built in just nine days. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Local resident Alex Girdwood working on her plot at Mudchute Allotments on the Isle of Dogs, east London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Medical staff carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 towards a medicalized TGV high speed train at the railway station in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 3, 2020, prior to his evacuation, along with 23 other patients, to hospitals in Bordeaux southwestern France, where the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been limited so far. - The information board reads : The disease generally disappears after a few days with rest, but (...). (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Police personnel wearing coronavirus-themed helmets ride on horses as they participate in a awareness campaign during a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on April 2, 2020. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - APRIL 2, 2020: Travellers are seen at the Vladivostok Airport on arrival on a repatriation flight from Bangkok, Thailand during the pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). All Russian citizens who are repatriated by plane must be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine for observation. In Vladivostok, travellers are sent to an observation facility at the Sakharny Klyuch health resort. As of 2 April 2020, Russia has reported more than 2700 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 5 confirmed cases in the Primorye Territory. Dmitry Yefremov/TASS
EDITORIAL USE ONLY; NO COMMERCIAL USE; NO ADVERTISING (Photo by Dmitry Yefremov\TASS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - APRIL 1: Empire State Building lights up like an ambulance to honour emergency healthcare workers responding to the new type of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in New York City, United States on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - APRIL 2, 2020: A pilot in a face mask is seen at the Vladivostok Airport after a repatriation flight from Bangkok, Thailand during the pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). All Russian citizens who are repatriated by plane must be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine for observation. In Vladivostok, travellers are sent to an observation facility at the Sakharny Klyuch health resort. As of 2 April 2020, Russia has reported more than 2700 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 5 confirmed cases in the Primorye Territory. Dmitry Yefremov/TASS (Photo by Dmitry Yefremov\TASS via Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 02: An aerial view of an empty Bondi Beach on April 02, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. The Australian government has introduced further restrictions on movement and gatherings in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Public gatherings are now limited to two people, while Australians are being urged to stay home unless absolutely necessary. New South Wales and Victoria have also enacted additional lockdown measures to allow police the power to fine people who breach the two-person outdoor gathering limit or leave their homes without a reasonable excuse. Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have all closed their borders to non-essential travellers and international arrivals into Australia are being sent to mandatory quarantine in hotels for 14 days. (Photo by James Gourley/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL â April 01: Replica of Christ the Redeemer with surgical mask on Copacabana beach, to remind people about the danger of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on April 01, 2020. (Photo by Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
HIMEJI, JAPAN - APRIL 02: Tourists wear face masks as they sit on an empty tour boat during the cherry blossom season at Himeji castle lake on April 2,2020 in Himeji, Japan. Japan number of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections growing rapidly urban areas, Tokyo and Osaka city has suggested prevent the spread of coronavirus self-restraint bars, karaoke, live house and restaurant with entertainment. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)
Hindu priests wearing facemasks perform rituals during the festival of Rama Navami, the birthday of God Rama, at a temple during a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Hyderabad, on April 2, 2020. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman wearing a protective face mask to help stop the spread of the coronavirus rides a bicycle past blooming cherry blossom trees Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Tokyo. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
People wear protective face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus next to a police statue with its own mask at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Impoverished Indians offer prayers outside a roadside Hindu temple closed on account of lockdown to prevent the spread of new coronavirus in Prayagraj, India, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. India's 21-day lockdown has effectively kept 1.3 billion people at home for all but essential trips to places like markets or pharmacies. But the world's largest lockdown has turned into a humanitarian crisis for India's impoverished people. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Corporal Mathias Jahn, member of the German armed forces Bundeswehr, fixes his glasses beside a mobile coronavirus test station prior Bundeswehr members demonstrating his work in a test run after a press conference at a drive-through (drive-in) COVID-19 testing center in Gera, Germany, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The appointment-only drive-through testing center began twelfe days ago. Medical staff reach into a car to take a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
People wearing face masks ride an escalator near a winged statue at an upscale shopping mall in Beijing, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. China on Tuesday reported just one new death from the coronavirus and a few dozen new cases, all brought from overseas. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Visitors wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk along the Cheonggye stream under the posters for the upcoming National Assembly elections in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The elections will be held on April 15 about 14,300 polling stations at all over the nation to pick lawmakers. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
An Indian worker prepares to load cartons of milk powder in a parcel train during lockdown as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 in Ahmedabad, India, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish young man is tested for COVID-19 by medical personnel wearing protective gear as part of the government's measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the orthodox city of Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb, Israel, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A Kashmiri couple paddle their Shikara back home after buying flour and other food items from a near by market during lockdown in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
A man gets a shave outside closed shops during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in the old quarters of New Delhi on March 30, 2020. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian servicemen of the National guard wearing face masks, amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, guard the parliament during an extraordinary sitting on March 30, 2020. - Ukraine announced on Monday a sharp revision of this year's economic forecast from 3.7 percent growth to a 3.9 percent contraction due to the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
Recipients of the charity 'Essener Tafel' food bank stand with their shopping trolley in a line at the food bank in Essen, western Germany, on March 30, 2020 amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP) (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)
An ambulance medical staff sprays disinfectant on his colleague after arriving at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital with an elderly woman, who recovered from COVID-19, at Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 30, 2020, after travel restrictions into the city were eased following more than two months of lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. - Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged last year, partly reopened on March 28 after more than two months of near total isolation for its population of 11 million. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldier gestures towards a line of shoppers at a supermarket in Soweto on March 30, 2020. - South Africa came under a nationwide lockdown on March 27, 2020, joining other African countries imposing strict curfews and shutdowns in an attempt to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the continent. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP) (Photo by MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - MARCH 29: The Oculus transportation hub and mall stands nearly deserted in lower Manhattan on March 29, 2020 in New York City. Across the country schools, businesses and places of work have either been shut down or are restricting hours of operation as health officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
28 March 2022, Berlin: A family goes for a walk in Friedenau. All family members wear colorful masks as protection against the coronavirus. The masks were sewn by a friend of the family herself. Photo: Wolfram Steinberg/dpa (Photo by Wolfram Steinberg/picture alliance via Getty Images)
MOUNT JULIET, TN - MARCH 29: Aerial view as Pastor Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church holds services in the church parking lot on March 29, 2020 in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order that prohibits social gatherings of 10 or more in response to coronavirus (COVID-19), which is also recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 29, 2020: An officer of the Mospriroda environmental agency in a face mask uses a megaphone to remind visitors about social distancing rules, at the entrance to the Serebryany Bor forest park in a north-west suburb of Moscow. The Russian government has announced a paid week off work (30 March to 3 April) for employed people and school holidays (21 March - 12 April), while Moscow's authorities have ordered the shutdown of restaurants, leisure facilities and other service industry businesses and urged Muscovites to self-isolate to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Forest parks remain open but the public are warned to observe social distancing rules. Sergei Karpukhin/TASS (Photo by Sergei Karpukhin\TASS via Getty Images)
CORSO VITTORIO EMANUELE II, MILAN, ITALY - 2020/03/29: General view shows almost deserted corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The Italian government imposed unprecedented restrictions to halt the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, among other measures people movements are allowed only for work, for buying essential goods and for health reasons. (Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - MARCH 29: General view of an almost empty Beach in Tel Aviv on March 29, 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 30,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more. (Photo by Guy Prives/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 29, 2020: A young couple in face masks stroll in the Serebryany Bor forest park in a north-west suburb of Moscow. The Russian government has announced a paid week off work (30 March to 3 April) for employed people and school holidays (21 March - 12 April), while Moscow's authorities have ordered the shutdown of restaurants, leisure facilities and other service industry businesses and urged Muscovites to self-isolate to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Forest parks remain open but the public are warned to observe social distancing rules. Sergei Karpukhin/TASS (Photo by Sergei Karpukhin\TASS via Getty Images)
Enfermeiro fotografa impacto do coronavírus nos hospitais da Itália
Migrant workers and their families coming from Delhi, get inside an overloaded bus to reach their hometown and villages during government imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against COVID-19 coronavirus in Allahabad on March 29, 2020. (Photo by Ritesh Shukla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks next to a billboard with instructions, on how to properly sneeze, in Jerusalem on March 29, 2020, amid measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. - Israel has 3,865 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with another 99 in the occupied Palestinian territories and tens of thousands in self-isolation. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)
28 March 2020, Bavaria, Munich: The Königsplatz in front of the Propyläen is almost deserted. Photo: Sven Hoppe/dpa (Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images)
LIVORNO, ITALY - MARCH 28: People attend afternoon mass whilst respecting social distancing in the ancient Church of the Madonna on March 28, 2020 in Livorno, Italy. In Italy liturgical celebrations are not prohibited and can take place with a restricted number of people necessary for the officiation of the rite and through respect for the appropriate distances and cautions. The Italian government continues to enforce the nationwide lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Italy has passed 92,470 with the death toll rising to over 10,000. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 28: A shopping area is closed as a preventive measure against the new type of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia on March 28, 2020. Parks, entertainment venues, restaurants and public places will be closed up between March 28 - April 5 in Moscow. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
SERIATE, ITALY - MARCH 28: Military personnel make preparations before leaving the church of San Giuseppe to carry coffins of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic victims to crematorium in Seriate, Italy on March 28, 2020. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- MARCH 28 - Prime Minister Trudeau announced that passengers with any symptoms of COVOD-19 will not be allowed to board domestic flights or trains as only essential industries are open as the province shut down non-essential services and industries to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto. March 28, 2020. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 27: The message "Merci" (thank you) in tribute of those on the frontline to fight the coronavirus disease, is seen on the Eiffel Tower at night during the Coronavirus epidemic (CODIV 19) on March 27, 2020 in Paris, France. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced today the extension of the confinement of the French until April 15, 2020.The country has introduced fines for people caught violating its nationwide lockdown measures intended to stop the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has spread to at least 182 countries, claiming over 10,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - MARCH 27: General view of an emergency makeshift field hospital as it is set up at Pacaembu Stadium for coronavirus (COVID-19) patients with a capacity of 200 beds on March 27, 2020 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. According to the Ministry of health, as of today, Brazil has 2.915 confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and at least 77 recorded deceases. (Photo by Miguel Schincariol/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 27: In this photo illustration, a postcard mailing outlining coronavirus guidelines from the White House and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on March 27, 2020 in Dallas, Texas. The United States currently has over 1,300 deaths due to COVID-19. (Photo illustration by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - MARCH 27, 2020: Russian citizens boarding a train at Central Railway Station. Russia and Ukraine have agreed a deal to briefly resume train connection between the two countries to repatriate their citizens in connection with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. A special train with Russian citizens will leave Kiev on 27 March and arrive in Moscow on the next day. On its return journey, the train will take Ukrainian citizens to Kiev. Anna Marchenko/TASS (Photo by Anna Marchenko\TASS via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 27: Jets are parked on runway 28 at the Pittsburgh International Airport on March 27, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Due to decreased flights as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, close to 70 American Airlines planes are being stacked and parked at the airport. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
An employee of the Ministry of Public Works fumigates a street amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Santo Domingo on March 27, 2020. (Photo by Erika SANTELICES / AFP) (Photo by ERIKA SANTELICES/afp/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: Streets and plazas are empty in the Chinatown neighborhood as people stay home and non-essential businesses are ordered closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. The United States surpassed China and Italy as the country with the most coronavirus cases with more than 97,000 people confirmed and more than 1,000 people having died from COVID-19. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Security forces arrest a man for operating a restaurant serving food to customers eating on the premises, which has been prohibited and only takeaways are allowed under measures aimed at halting the spread of the new coronavirus, in Nairobi, Kenya Friday, March 27, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Impoverished Indians stand in a queue to receive free food in Hyderabad, India, Friday, March 27, 2020. Some of India's legions of poor and others suddenly thrown out of work by a nationwide stay-at-home order began receiving aid on Thursday, as both public and private groups worked to blunt the impact of efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic. The measures that went into effect Wednesday, the largest of their kind in the world, risk heaping further hardship on the quarter of the population who live below the poverty line and the 1.8 million who are homeless. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
Residents of the densely populated Hillbrow neighborhood of downtown Johannesburg, confined in an attempt to prevent the spread coronavirus, stand and wave from their balconies, Friday, March 27, 2020. South Africa went into a nationwide lockdown for 21 days in an effort to mitigate the spread to the coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Volunteers with the Red Cross sort homemade face masks meant to be sterilized and distributed among people in need in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, March 27, 2020. In Czech Republic it is mandatory that all people must cover their mouths and noses in public to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus called COVID-19. Improvised methods such as a scarf or homemade mask are allowed.The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Customers queue between social distancing markers on the pavement outside a supermarket in Westminster, London after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man wearing a protective face masks shops at the partly closed Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market on March 26, 2020, after Israel has imposed tight restrictions to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, in Jerusalem. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP) (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)
A municipal worker disinfects a street in front of the Parliament as a measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Bishkek on March 26, 2020. (Photo by Vyacheslav OSELEDKO / AFP) (Photo by VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images)
Workers using heavy equipment lift medical equipment to be used for Corona Special Hospital (COVID-19) at Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Riau Islands, , on March 12, 2020.. A number of medical devices for the Corona Special Hospital on Galang Island which were transported by the TNI Air Force Squadron 31 type A-1317 Halim Perdanakusuma
(Photo by Teguh Prihatna/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 26: A man wearing a protective mask stands next to a car with a trunk full of flowers that the Madrina Foundation sends as a gift to the health workers and to decorate the field hospital at IFEMA, where people infected with coronavirus from other centres in the Community of Madrid are treated on March 26, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Eduardo Parra/Europa Press via Getty Images)
Indonesian bride Irra Chorina Octora and her Turkish partner Yavuz Ozdemir, wearing face masks amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus, attend their wedding ceremony in Surabaya on March 25, 2020. (Photo by Juni Kriswanto / AFP) (Photo by JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP via Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the "White Helmets", prepare to disinfect a school where displaced Syrians are sheltered in the town of Maaret Misrin in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on March 25, 2020 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Ahmad al-ATRASH / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-ATRASH/AFP via Getty Images)
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BACK TO SLIDE
As the economic shocks triggered by this paralysis in the country's northern industrial heartland reverberate across Europe, Italians are still trying to get to grips with how a seemingly isolated case could balloon within days, to bring the eurozone's third-largest economy to the brink of recession.
Almost 900 coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Authorities have put part of Italy's most productive region into lockdown, shut the Venice carnival, one of its main tourist events, and postponed Milan's showpiece design fair.
Lombardy, the region around Italy's financial capital, Milan, sits on the border with Switzerland and is one of the richest and most productive in Europe. Along with neighbouring Veneto, the other main area hit by the coronavirus outbreak, it generates around a third of Italy's economic output.
Economists expect the crisis to tip Italy's already struggling economy into recession by the end of the first quarter, with knock-on effects likely to last for months.
"In Veneto, we have 600,000 businesses and we make 150 billion euros (£125 billion) of GDP per year, if we go into recession, Italy will fail," said Luca Zaia, governor of the region of Veneto.
The lockdown, which started on Feb. 23, affects 10 towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto and isolates some 50,000 people from the outside world. Trucks can get in and out with bare essentials, but police roadblocks keep everyone else in.
Italy's case reveals how vulnerable a Western economy can be to unexpected outside events. The red zone and the region around it is a microcosm of the Italian economy. The area contains everything from warehouses and logistics centres for companies to cheese and dairy processing centres.
Local engineering unions say some 6,000 manufacturing workers, mainly those living in the red zone, have been sent home or put on short hours.
"We are very worried. We'll have to wait a couple of months for a reliable estimate of the effects on employment ... but the initial signals are alarming," said Andrea Donega, secretary general of the regional branch of the FIM-CISL union.
Banks are taking steps to ensure people can access cash. Banco BPM SpA, one of the region's main banks, has temporarily stopped charging customers from other banks who use its ATMs.
The impact is hurting areas of Italy barely touched by the virus. Italy's tourism federation, Assoturismo, said up to 90% of hotel and travel agency bookings had been cancelled in Rome and up to 80% in Sicily for March, as school trips and conferences across the country were called off, and foreigners opted for caution.
"Italian tourism never experienced a crisis on this scale in recent history. This is the darkest moment. Not even 9/11 hit our business so hard," said Assoturismo chief, Vittorio Messina.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Italians want to know why their country has become the Wuhan of Europe. The first two cases in Italy came to light at the end of January when two Chinese tourists from the city that is ground zero of the deadly disease fell ill during a trip to the country.
The couple were immediately put into isolation, everyone they had come into contact with was tested for the virus, and Italy's government became the first in Europe to ban all direct flights to and from China, in a bid to halt further contagion. The two Chinese are not believed to have infected anyone else.
"The system of prevention put into place by Italy is the most rigorous in Europe," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters reassuringly on Jan 31.
His confidence was misplaced.
On Feb. 21, Lombardy announced that a 38-year-old Italian man, named only as Mattia, from the town of Codogno, 60 km (40 miles) southeast of Milan, had tested positive for the virus. Within a week, 888 people were confirmed to have caught the disease, of whom 21 had died.
"We were considered to be the country that had adopted the most drastic and fastest preventative measures," said Massimo Galli, head of the infectious diseases department at Milan's Sacco hospital, where some coronavirus patients are being treated. But he said the epidemic probably started well before Codogno resident Mattia, dubbed "patient one," fell ill.
The illness is spread through the air and can leave some people symptom-free while local authorities say about two in 100 develop fatal complications including pneumonia, making it a stealth killer able to infect thousands without their knowing it.
When Mattia first showed up in the Codogno hospital on Feb. 18, no alarm was raised about his symptoms because he had not been to China, local officials said.
The consequences were dramatic.
After spending time in the emergency room that day, surrounded by other sick patients, he decided to return home, the local health authority said. But his condition worsened and he was back in hospital the next day with no protection in place.
He was not diagnosed until the night of Feb. 20 and by then he had infected five health workers and at least one fellow patient, besides his pregnant wife and a friend. They in turn spread the disease before going into quarantine.
A nurse from the hospital told Reuters on Thursday that he suspected the illness had been circulating days before Mattia arrived seeking help.
"For at least a week before the first case was discovered, we had observed an abnormal number of pneumonia cases. All these persons were treated and sent back home," he said, asking not to be named.
He said confusion reigned in the hours after news broke that Mattia had tested positive.
"At the beginning (management) kept us in the hospital for 30 hours. Then they told us to go home and place ourselves in quarantine. Eventually, they told us to come back to the hospital," he added. "As a result, more health workers than patients were infected in Codogno hospital."
The local health agency responsible for the hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Prime Minister Conte has accused the hospital of mismanaging the case and contributing to spreading the virus, saying it did not follow the right protocols.
The hospital has said it did, as has Lombardy's regional government, which oversees the local health service. It argues that Rome changed its guidelines at the end of January on testing possible coronavirus patients. The new rules said swabs only had to be taken from people with connections to China — something that did not apply to Mattia.
Prompted by Conte's complaint, prosecutors have opened an investigation into the procedures followed by the hospital. It may take many weeks before they reach any conclusions.
No one knows who brought the illness to Italy's wealthy north: Scientists initially believed the unwitting "patient zero" might have been a colleague of the Codogno patient who had recently returned from a business trip in China. But he tested negative, leaving no other obvious candidates.
Dr. Marino Faccini leads a team of experts in Milan who are tasked with trying to find the source of viral outbreaks. However, after days of plotting possible paths for the infection, he has drawn a blank.
"We are (now) working to limit the virus and not so much looking for patient zero, whose (illness) dates back quite some time and is difficult to locate," Faccini told Reuters.
The authorities have had to strike a difficult balance between ensuring public safety and trying to prevent panic.
"Only 0.1% of the country is involved," Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told reporters on Thursday. But local authorities say they have had to impose broad restrictions to prevent the spread of contagion, which would overload the health service to the point of collapse.
"If this outbreak spreads, hospitals will face a serious crisis, not only for the coronavirus admissions but for all patients," the Lombardy regional government said in a statement on Friday.
In the red zone, only strictly necessary services such as supermarkets are open. School children have been doing homework remotely and communicating with their teachers by WhatsApp.
The economic shockwaves have been felt across the country, in businesses of all sizes. The area is a rich agricultural producer, with around 500 farms and some 100,000 cattle and pigs. With planting due now, "everyone should be working flat out," said Gianpiero Gruppi, who raises pigs and mixed cereal crops in San Rocco al Porto, near Lodi.
Instead, two of his farm workers are in lockdown and he and his brother have been forced to do the work of four on their own. "I don't know how long we'll be able to go on like this," he said.
The only way to get things in and out is to hand them to police on the checkpoints or leave them to be picked up.
Carlo Migli, a dairy farmer near Lodi who has 300 head of dairy cattle, has struggled to get the necessary health checks on milk samples because the nearest testing centres are outside the red zone.
If he can't get the checks done, he'll have to throw out daily production of 3,000 litres of milk, he said.
Local producers worry future sales will suffer as buyers shy away, even though the virus does not affect food safety. Coldiretti, an agricultural lobby group, has already warned that food products from Italy are facing additional sanitary checks in some places.
Carlo Cornali, owner of Pasticceria Cornali, a century-old bakery in Codogno which makes a famous biscuit sold locally and beyond, has had to stop production altogether. Just ahead of the normally busy Easter season, he has cancelled his own orders to suppliers.
"We can't do anything because the eggs come from outside the red zone," he said.
"I don't know when we're going to open and if we open, what it will be like, because we'll have to see the effects of this general psychosis."