By The Washington Post · Chico Harlan, Stefano Pitrelli · WORLD, HEALTH, EUROPE
The measures had not been finalized, and the deliberations were proving complicated, said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal debate.
But, if adopted, the Italian measures to effective seal off much of northern Italy would mark the most significant step taken anywhere outside of China to try to contain the coronavirus.
Italy has faced the largest coronavirus outbreak in Europe. The number of active cases in the country have soared beyond 5,000, with 1,000 new cases confirmed on Saturday alone. Of those cases, more than 2,700 are in the Lombardy region, which includes Milan.
The measures would at least temporarily transform the nation, locking off much of the northern part of the country, with people allowed to exit or enter Lombardy and 11 northern provinces only for emergency reasons or for essential work that cannot be delayed.
The changes would cut off the daily high-speed rail connections between Milan and Rome, bring an absolute halt to tourism in Venice, and essentially paralyze Italy's economic heartland.
It would also signal that Western Democratic nations are willing to drastically restrict freedoms as they contend with major outbreaks.
But Saturday night, questions still remained.
In a statement, the governor of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, said the proposed decree was useful in promoting people to be more cautious, but called it a "mess" that required "clarifications."
The draft does not specifically mention how to handle foreigners and travelers who are already in areas that would be locked-off.
In the two weeks since the coronavirus crisis erupted in Italy, 11 small towns have been put under lockdown - restrictions that have stopped the movement of 50,000 people. If the government approves the new decree, similar restrictions would apply to roughly 15 million people.
When the crisis erupted in China in January, authorities began to lock down nearly 60 million people in Hubei province at the center of the outbreak.
According to the draft, the restrictions would remain in place until at least April 3.
Schools would also remain closed during that time, and public events would be halted. Professional sports matches could only take place behind closed doors.
If the proposal is implemented, Italy would have three separate sealed off-zones - the largest of those being the region surrounding Milan. Another so-called red zone, to the east, would include the lagoon city of Venice, along the Adriatic Sea.
The last zone would be along the same seaboard farther to the south. Inside that zone, there would be an island of territory without the same prohibitions - the tiny nation of San Marino.