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Abandoning cafes for long supermarket lines, Milan enters coronavirus lockdown

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By Michele Novaga  with NBC News World News
Image: Customers wait in line to pay at a supermarket in Milan on March 7,
Customers wait in line to pay at a supermarket in Milan.   -   Copyright  Miguel Medina

MILAN — An eerie silence could be heard in Milan Sunday as the city woke up to the news that it had been locked down by the Italian government in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.Just a few cars ran down the empty streets and a small number of people could be seen on the pavements - scenes reminiscent of Aug. 15, when the entire city decamps to the seaside.Supermarkets are however, doing a booming trade as people look to stock up on food and household goods.Like many stores and markets in the city, a person at the door wearing a mask and disposable gloves manages the long lines, allowing just 10 people in at a time."I had to wait 15 minutes to get in," Luca Galli, 48, told NBC News. However, the lawyer added: "Once inside, I could easily shop."Inside, he said that all the supermarket staff were wearing masks and at the cashier people were told to stand one meter away from each other.

Customers wait in line to pay at a supermarket in Milan.
Customers wait in line to pay at a supermarket in Milan. Miguel Medina

Little guidance has been given by the Italian government, although it said the lockdown in the northern Lombardy region where Milan is situated, would last until at least Apr. 3.Around 10 million people live in the area. Another 6 million in provinces throughout the country, including Venice, Parma and Modena were also placed under quarantine.Galli, like many, said it was unclear how food will be transported into the city.Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte said Sunday that people will be restricted from entering areas designated as "red zones," except for ''undeferrable work needs or emergency situations'' until at least early April.The measures were put in place as more than 230 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, in Italy and a total of 5,883, people have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness. Close to half that number — 2,651 — hospitalized.At the Stazione Centrale railway station — one the city's main transport hubs — life appeared much more normal. Trains were running as scheduled, even those traveling to other regions of Italy. No one appeared to be checking the passengers.Marta Torres, 30, said she had arrived from Pavia, a small city around 25 miles south of Milan, also in the Lombardi region."No one asked us anything," the caregiver said.In a nearby park, psychologist Chiara Dionigi, 37, blamed the government for "mismanaging" the emergency.After initial measures were put in place to contain the outbreak, she said that "authorities should have done more to make people observe the restrictions."She added that "people should have started behaving in a different way."Her husband Alberto Righini, 45, agreed. Accusing the government of mixed messages, he said he could not understand why it had encouraged people to work from home, only for them to later to tell people it was fine to congregate in public.On Sunday however, that message did appear to have resonated with the public.In Milan's famous Duomo Square, the cafes were empty. Only a small group of tourists walk into the main entrance of the Gothic cathedral.Carmelo Golgi, 22, said she had arrived in the city to study, two weeks before the epidemic started."I couldn't imagine this would happen," she said.On the new restrictions however, she added: "I'm not scared and nor is my family at home."