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A Quarter Of Italy's Population Is In Quarantine Because Of Coronavirus

NOEL KING, HOST:

The streets of Milan and Venice are silent this morning. Italy's government has implemented a quarantine for the next four weeks in parts of northern Italy. Sixteen million people are now in lockdown. That's about 1 in 4 Italians. Somebody leaked details of the quarantine to the Italian press before it was officially announced over the weekend. And in a panic, thousands of people tried to get out of the region.

I'm on the line now with Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini. He writes for Corriere della Sera. That's the paper that published the details of the quarantine. Hello, Beppe.

BEPPE SEVERGNINI: Hello.

KING: So you are in Crema, near Milan. Are you on lockdown?

SEVERGNINI: Absolutely, yes. I'm on lockdown. Actually, Crema's pretty close to Codogno and Castiglione d'Adda, small towns that were the red areas already. We are sort of orange areas. We can move. Like, if I want to go to Milan, I can go to Milan proving that I have work to do there. It will be more difficult for me to go to Rome or to Turin which are outside.

And something you must remember is that, yes, you correctly say one-fourth of the population, but we are talking about two-thirds of the Italian GNP.

KING: When you say GNP, you're talking about the country's economy. You're saying some of these regions that have been locked down, some of these areas have been locked down, they are huge contributors to the Italian economy. And Italy, regardless, has decided it's important that people stay put.

SEVERGNINI: Yes, everything is shut down - theaters, cinemas, churches, restaurants after 6 p.m. - everything.

KING: Are you - are people going a little bit stir-crazy?

SEVERGNINI: Well, Italy, in a way, is more cohesive than many people thinks. Italians are behaving responsibly. It is true - correctly reported that a few thousand people panicked and run away. They wanted to be home and in the south and not be stuck in Milan in quarantine. But this thing has to be stopped. The only way to stop it is to take drastic measures while we can.

KING: You've clarified something important. You said a lot of those people that tried to flee the area, they were trying to get home. It wasn't necessarily people panicking and trying to get out. They were just - they wanted to get back where they're from.

SEVERGNINI: Yeah. But because they lived in this part of Italy where the virus actually is around - it's a fact - they were going to bring this to southern Italy. I have friends - not one but many friends - medical doctors that are working in hospitals in Lombardy. I know what I'm talking about, and intensive care units places are running out.

The Italian National Health Service is the best in Europe. You can be taken care of completely free, no question asked. And in - Lombardy is the best in Italy. And still, Lombardy is under huge pressure.

KING: Beppe, it sounds like what you are saying, broadly, is that people do think this quarantine, this lockdown is justified and that they do trust the government's decision.

SEVERGNINI: Yes. Yes, I would say almost everyone I know. And I'm looking at reaction of the people. Of course there are people that are more worried, they're less worried. But definitely, people are trusting the government. And believe me, we're Italians who are in Italy. People trusting the government is not a first, but it is not - it's unusual. But people are trusting the government. They think now is time to abide to the rules, shut up and do what you're told.

KING: Yeah. Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini. Thank you so much, joining us on Skype.

SEVERGNINI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.