ROME — The Italian government will close all schools and universities in the country from Thursday until at least mid-March in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told a news conference in Rome on Wednesday evening that the decision was based on advice from health authorities. The civil protection agency said the number of confirmed cases has surpassed 2,700 while the death toll has risen to 107.
According to the government’s latest guidelines, people should avoid physical contact and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from each other. “Although school children and young people have not been particularly hit by the virus, [school closures] are aimed at avoiding gatherings, including on public transportation,” Carlo Signorelli, a hygiene professor in Milan, told Sky News Italy.
The closures will be in place until March 15. According to a draft proposal seen by POLITICO, Conte’s cabinet is also considering halting public events — including sporting events, meetings, conferences, rallies and theater shows — until March 20.
Meanwhile, the scientific task force set up by Conte asked Italians to stop shaking hands, hugging and kissing. It also recommended self-isolation for all elderly people in the country for the next 30 days — advice that government officials and scientists said they hope people will follow.
On Tuesday, the government said it would increase the number of available spaces in intensive care units by 50 percent and speed up procedures to hire new doctors in hospitals.