Lombardy insists on face masks outside homes to stop Covid-19

Authorities in Lombardy, the Italian region worst affected by coronavirus, have enacted a law obliging citizens to wear face masks when they go outside, as Spain said it is also considering recommending the public wear masks.

As confirmed global infections passed the 1.2m mark, and Donald Trump warned the US to brace for “a lot of death” , officials around the world appeared to be making a U-turn on whether the public should wear masks, despite huge shortages.

Spain reported a significant drop in its daily tally of new deaths in a day from coronavirus to 674, 135 fewer than yesterday, the lowest number of victims in 10 days. Spain is also seeing a slowing rate of increase in infections, which at 5% was the smallest increase since the epidemic hit.

Previously, countries had followed international health recommendations that suggested masks offered little protection and if not regularly replaced could increase the risk of infection.

More recently, however, some experts have suggested that, following the example in some Asian countries, covering the nose and mouth may be useful in stopping the spread of the disease.

Announcing the new law, Lombardy’s president, Attilio Fontana, said people should “cover their mouths and noses” with a simple scarf, adding it would help “prevent you from spreading the virus if you happen to be a carrier”.

The new law was introduced as images from cities including Rome, Naples, Milan and Turin showed an increase in the number of people venturing out in recent days in the good weather. The law will be in place at least until 13 April, when Italy’s lockdown is due to expire.

Parish priest Don Antonio Lauri celebrates Palm Sunday mass from the rooftop of the St Gabriel of Sorrows church in Rome.
Parish priest Don Antonio Lauri celebrates Palm Sunday mass from the rooftop of the St Gabriel of Sorrows church in Rome. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Fontana’s statement came after Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, suggested on Friday that the government would “probably” recommend the wearing of masks, despite the fact that they are almost impossible to find in many pharmacies.

Protective masks, both the specialised air-tight versions required by health care workers and the more basic surgical versions, are in desperately short supply around the globe and have become the target of bidding wars by countries anxious to secure the limited supplies. China is the world’s largest supplier.

The scramble for desperately needed medical equipment and protective gear has been most marked in the US, where it is causing intense squabbling between the states and federal government just as the nation is facing one of its gravest emergencies.

The New York governor Andrew Cuomo praised China for a shipment of 1,000 ventilators to his state – the hardest ht by coronavirus in the US – as Trump said states are making inflated requests for supplies and appeared to suggest he had a hand in the shipment.

At a time when Christians would normally be celebrating Palm Sunday, the global pandemic continued to disrupt traditional observances. Pope Francis marked the day in St Peter’s Square in Rome without congregants, while in China grave-cleaning ceremonies were severely restricted.

Italy and Spain, the two hardest-hit European nations by the disease, expressed hope that the crisis was peaking, though Italian officials said the emergency is far from over.

According to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, the reported global death toll neared 65,000 as outbreaks of the disease continued to flare up, including in Tokyo, which recorded a record daily increase in infections at 130 new cases.

An International Organisation for Migration official in the Malakasa migrant camp in Greece.
An International Organisation for Migration official in the Malakasa migrant camp in Greece. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

The number of people infected in the US – now the world’s worst hit country – soared to more than 300,000 as deaths climbed past 8,500. Many of the victims are in New York City, but the outbreak is deepening elsewhere too.

Greece has moved to quarantine a second migrant facility this week after a 53-year-old man tested positive, the migration ministry said on Sunday.

The Afghan man lives with his family at the Malakasa camp along with hundreds of other migrants and asylum seekers. On Thursday, authorities quarantined the Ritsona camp in central Greece after 20 asylum seekers tested positive for coronavirus. It was the first such facility in the country to be hit since the outbreak of the disease.

The spread of the disease has largely subsided in China, where the first cases were reported in December, but officials have moved cautiously to reopen public spaces.


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