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Italy: Army to patrol streets to avoid curfew breaches

As numbers of deaths, infections from coronavirus are rising, local authorities call for help of army to enforce lockdown

20.03.2020 - Update : 20.03.2020
Italy: Army to patrol streets to avoid curfew breaches

By Giada Zampano

ROME (AA) - The Italian army will start patrolling Italian streets amid the coronavirus emergency, as local authorities scramble to monitor the almost-total lockdown imposed nationally to mitigate the spread of the virus.

On Friday, Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana obtained the help of military forces on the streets of Milan, Italy’s financial hub, and one of the cities worst-hit by the epidemic.

Other regions, including the southern Campania, Puglia and Sicily, had already obtained the go-ahead for the use of military forces in addition to the police.

Up to 20,000 soldiers are ready to “do their part”, said Italy’s Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini, who has confirmed the army’s availability to help handling an extraordinary emergency, as it is already doing on the sanitary front.

Italian hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed by thousands of patients in serious conditions, with intensive care units close to the point of saturation, especially in the north.

Earlier this week, in the city of Bergamo -- where the number of deaths is rising so fast that authorities and churches do not have enough space to cremate and bury the bodies -- a long convoy of military trucks loaded with coffins drove at night along the city’s deserted streets to transport the corpses to other cities.

In Milan, 114 military units will be assigned to the hard task of avoiding citizens’ infractions, still surging despite the lockdown imposed by the Italian government, while the number of confirmed cases in the country continues to grow.

Italy’s death toll on Thursday rose above 3,400, surpassing China -- where the lethal virus was originated. Lombardy, the epicenter of the emergency, counts alone 2,168 victims.

Lombardy’s governor addressed worries that the use of army patrols could represent a breach of the citizens’ democratic rights, saying that his call for help was received and supported by Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella.

“I reiterated in a phone conversation with the president the need to use the army to support police forces and reinforce the network of controls aimed at applying the rules,” Fontana said on Friday, and added: “I can say that Mattarella has shared my request, which is aimed at guaranteeing the collective good.”

Following the urgent calls of local governors and mayors, the government is working on more stringent measures to avoid that citizens leave their homes, violating the lockdown rules.

It now seems almost unavoidable that schools will remain closed well after the initially announced date of April 3, while the opening hours of supermarkets and outdoor activities will further be restricted.

COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to at least 163 countries and territories. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Out of more than 246,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 10,000, and over 86,000 have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most who become infected suffer only mild symptoms and recover.

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