Italy just recorded the highest single-day death toll of any country with a coronavirus outbreak. Here's how this catastrophe unfolded.

Stefano Guidi/Getty ImagesAn Army soldier stands guard in front of the Turin Synagogue during as Italy continues it nationwide lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Outside of Asia, Italy has been the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • As of March 18, over 35,700 people there have been infected and nearly 3,000 are dead.
  • The country initially sealed off nearly a dozen towns, then expanded that so-called “red zone” to include the northern region of Lombardy and 14 neighbouring provinces.
  • As the outbreak continued to grow, Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte locked down the entire nation on Monday.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Italian government has launched an all-out battle against its coronavirus outbreak: The entire country, home to over 60 million people, is on lockdown.

The coronavirus has infected more than 35,700 people and killed nearly 3,000 in Italy as of March 18.

Although nearly 65% of all recorded coronavirus cases worldwide have been in China, Italy is the hardest-hit nation outside of Asia.

As its case totals grew, Italy sealed off 11 towns, shutting down schools, museums, and public venues, and discouraging large gatherings.

When the disease showed no signs of slowing down, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte quarantined the entire northern region of Lombardy and 14 neighbouring provinces.

Then, on March 10, he expanded the coronavirus restriction zone to encompass the entire nation. All stores are closed, save for grocery markets and pharmacies.

Here’s a full rundown of what’s happened so far in Italy.

It took only four days for Italy to become the focal point of Europe’s coronavirus crisis.

Flavio Lo Scalzo/ReutersPolice officers are seen in Duomo in Milan, Italy, as the country’s leaders try to combat the coronavirus outbreak, March 10, 2020.

Italy reported three cases of the COVID-19 virus on February 21. Four days later, that number had shot up to 283 and seven people were dead.

Entire towns were locked down and public gatherings were cancelled in a bid to control the spread of the virus.

Flavio Lo Scalzo/ReutersA woman wearing a face mask takes a selfie in an eerily deserted Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy, during a coronavirus outbreak, March 10, 2020.

The government put almost a dozen towns – those in which the most coronavirus cases were reported – on lockdown on February 23, affecting an estimated 50,000 people. The two most infected regions were Lombardy and Veneto in the north, where the popular cities of Milan and Venice are located.

Major landmarks were closed, the annual Venice Carnival was cancelled, Giorgio Armani held its runway show at Milan Fashion Week in an empty theatre, and soccer fans were notably absent from games.

Gripped by fear, people began to panic-buy necessities.

Reuters/Flavio Lo ScalzoShelves are emptied of produce amid Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.

By February 26, 12 people had died of the coronavirus in Italy.

As the streets of Italy emptied, but so did shops. People began to line up outside stores and stockpile face masks, groceries, toilet paper, and other essentials, cleaning out shelves.

Italy was teetering on the edge of a recession before the coronavirus outbreak, and the recent developments are expected to compound its economic woes.


The coronavirus outbreak is thrashing Italy’s already-weak economy. The tourism and luxury industries have been severely hit as countries issue travel warnings to prevent people from travelling to Italy, which is typically a popular tourist destination.

Italy decided to lock down nearly a quarter of its population on March 8 as it raced to better control the coronavirus outbreak.

Manuel Silvestri/ReutersA waiter stands by empty tables outside a restaurant at St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy.

The Italian government decided to shut down its northern region of Lombardy and 14 neighbouring provinces to try to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The quarantine, which was expected to last until April 3, came as Italy’s coronavirus cases approached 6,000 and its death toll surpassed 230. Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the country’s Democratic party, was among the thousands who tested positive for COVID-19.

But plans of that shutdown leaked before it went into effect, triggering a mass exodus.

Ivan Romano/Getty ImagesTrain passengers are given a sanitary check in Salerno, Southern Italy, after the government announced the closure of Lombardy and 14 other provinces, March 8, 2020.

News of the impending closure leaked ahead of time, prompting thousands of panic-stricken people to try and flee parts of northern Italy, starting on March 7.

Roberto Burioni, a professor of virology at Milan’s Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, told The Guardian that the leak triggered unnecessary travel as people rushed south.

“Unfortunately some of those who fled will be infected with the disease,” he said.

By that point, the death toll had already exceeded 360.

Dozens of prison inmates rioted and escaped after news that jail visits would be limited or suspended as part of the containment measures.

REUTERS/Flavio Lo ScalzoInmates gather by a barred window at San Vittore Prison as part of a revolt in Milan, Italy, on March 9, 2020.

The government’s strict restrictions, paired with an awareness that inmates are closely packed and vulnerable to viruses, sparked unrest in 27 prisons across Italy on March 8 and 9.

Six inmates died of a methadone overdose after breaking into a Modena prison infirmary during the commotion. Others in Milan’s San Vittore prison attacked guards and climbed onto the roof, where they held up a painted sheet reading “Indulto,” which means “pardon.”

While inmates set fires to prisons and tried to overpower guards, their relatives clashed with police.

REUTERS/Yara NardiRiot police ward off inmates’ relatives in Rome, Italy.

The relatives of inmates clashed with police outside of Rebibbia Prison in Rome as they joined prisoners’ revolting over the suspension of family visits during the coronavirus contagion.

An additional surge of coronavirus cases forced Conte to announce the unprecedented measure of a nationwide lockdown.

Remo Casilli/ReutersRome’s Spanish Steps are deserted amid Italy’s battle with the coronavirus outbreak, March 10, 2020.

Italy announced a sweeping national quarantine on March 9; it restricted the movement of people in, out, and even within the country in a bid to halt the coronavirus’ relentless spread.

By that point, over 9,000 people had contracted the illness and over 460 were dead.

“All the measure of the red zones are now extended to all of the national territory,” Conte said at a press conference. He announced a “stay at home” policy, a 6 p.m. curfew, and a ban on public gatherings.

Schools, museums, theatres, and swimming pools throughout Italy were closed, and weddings and funerals halted. Mortgage payments were suspended, entire towns were sealed off, and Italy’s popular tourist destinations now sit eerily silent.

On its first day of that quarantine, Italy recorded its highest leap in fatalities in a single day: 168 new coronavirus deaths were reported there on Tuesday.

Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via APA medical worker holds a kit for the coronavirus test outside one of the emergency structures that were set up in Brescia, Italy.

That jump pushed Italy’s death toll past 630. Meanwhile, the number of infections crossed the 10,000 mark.

Italy’s number of infections and deaths are second only to China’s.

Italy’s prime minister used Facebook Live to issue a nationwide closure of all shops on Wednesday.

Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse via APThe Colosseum, which will be closed following the government’s new prevention measures on public gatherings, is reflected in a puddle where a face mask was left in Rome, Italy.

The shuttering of stores has left people to fend for themselves with only the help of grocery stores and markets, which remain open.

Police are fining people who get caught trying to enter or leave the outbreak areas in Italy. Public transit is being disinfected every day.

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has topped 12,500.

Amid a lack of resources, overwhelmed Italian doctors are facing impossible choices about who lives and who dies.

Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via APMedical personnel help to treat coronavirus patients in hard-hit Italy.

Doctors are being forced to make impossible choices about whom to treat first.

As things stand, young and otherwise healthy patients are being prioritised because of their heightened chances of survival.

Given the lack of resources and strains on Italy’s hospitals, the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care has given nurses and doctors “catastrophe medicine” guidelines to follow as they navigate the deteriorating situation.

“It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care,” the document says, according to a translation in the Atlantic. “What might be a relatively short treatment course in healthier people could be longer and more resource-consuming in the case of older or more fragile patients.”

The tragic triage is reminiscent of the choices made on a battlefield, and indeed, Italy is now at war.

Flavio Lo Scalzo/ReutersItalian police officers wearing protective masks check on people at Milan’s main train station as the country struggles to stem its coronavirus contagion.

As the country’s coronavirus caseload has skyrocketed, healthcare workers are confronting a worst-case confluence of a contagious new virus, an ageing population, and shortage of hospital beds.

A doctor in Bergamo penned an anguished Facebook post calling the coronavirus a “tsunami that has swept us all.”

“The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted, day and night,” Dr. Daniele Macchini wrote, adding that medical workers are too afraid to even return home, lest they infect their families.

Italy has recorded the highest one-day death toll of any nation since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Andrea Pattaro/AFP via Getty ImagesA man wearing a face mask walks on a deserted street in Venice, Italy, on March 18, 2020 during the country’s lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis.

Italy reported 475 deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday.

That’s the highest death toll reported in one day by any country since the coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Even at the height of China’s outbreak, its highest single-day death toll was 150, on February 23. Iran and Spain, both struggling with large outbreaks, have not recorded more than 200 deaths in a single day.

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