Why is coronavirus so bad in Italy? Why are cases so high in Italy - and how the lockdown could affect travel

The latest area to be affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 - the coronavirus that's spreading across the world - is Italy.

Initially, quarantine-like restrictions were in place in northern regions, but now they have been extended to cover the entirety of the country.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered that the people of Italy stay home in order to combat the spread of the virus in a television address.

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Conte promised “massive shock therapy” to overcome the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

A sign advising clients in various languages that respiratory masks are sold out at a pharmacy in downtown Rome (Photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Britons can still leave, but Mr Conte said that people living in Italy would only be permitted to travel for work or family emergencies, as the death toll in the country surged.

Here's everything you need to know:

What's the official travel advice?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) now advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice took effect immediately on 17 March and applies initially for a period of 30 days.

Two women wearing protective facemasks walk across the Piazza del Duomo in central Milan (Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice.

If you now need to change or cancel your travel plans, follow these steps:

- contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers

- get in touch with your insurance provider

A tourist wearing a protective respiratory mask outside the Coliseum in downtown Rome (Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

- continue to follow the NHS coronavirus guidance

The FCO was already advising against all but essential travel or all travel to some areas or countries due to risks that do not relate to COVID-19. This advice remains in place. Check FCO travel advice pages for the latest information.

How many cases are there in Italy?

At the current time of writing, Italian officials have reported over 97,600 confirmed cases of the virus.

There have been over 10,700 deaths, and 13,030 recoveries.

Italy now has one of the highest number of confirmed infections outside China.

It has overtaken China, where the total number of cases is over 81,400.

Why is it so bad there?

You may be wondering just why Italy is the current centre of the virus' spread.

An Italian health specialist has suggested that there may be a link between Italy's large elderly population and the fact that the country has been so badly affected by the spread of the virus.

The majority of people who have died from the coronavirus in Italy have been between 63 and 95 with underlying illnesses.

Prof Massimo Galli, the director of infectious diseases at Sacco hospital in Milan, told The Guardian: “Italy is a country of old people. The elderly with previous pathologies are notoriously numerous here.

"I think this could explain why we are seeing more serious cases of coronavirus here, which I repeat, in the vast majority of cases start mildly and cause few problems, especially in young people and certainly in children.

“Our life expectancy is among the highest in the world. But unfortunately, in a situation like this, old people are more at risk of a serious outcome.”

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.

Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

When to call NHS 111

Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS