Lockdown chaos: Queues of people line up outside supermarkets in Italy

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

While Italy’s streets were unrecognisably empty after the country entered its first day of an unprecedented lockdown for its 60 million people amid the coronavirus outbreak, video on social media has revealed contrasting scenes at supermarkets.

Panicked shoppers rushed to stores across the country in a desperate bid to stock up on supplies after the restrictions were unexpectedly announced by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Video shows long queues extending well beyond the entrance of supermarkets as shoppers, many in protective masks, wait with trolleys.

Mr Conte expanded the so-called red zone from the worst-hit northern regions to the entire country on Monday night, introducing the most severe controls on a Western nation since World War II.

Shoppers queue up at supermarkets in Italy. Source: Twitter/ TweetofLeonardo and AP

And while supermarkets were swamped with shoppers, independent store owners were left reeling with the restrictions.

"It looks like an apocalypse has struck, there is no one around," Rome restaurant manager Mario Monfreda said. 

Under the government order, all bars and restaurants will now have to close at 6pm.

"It is a total disaster. This will reduce us to nothing... more people are going to die as a result of the economic crisis that this lockdown is going to cause than the virus itself."

Supermarkets were swamped with shoppers, but independent business owners were worried about what the lockdown will do to the economy. Source: AP

Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli also expressed his concern over the economic effect, calling for the EU to relax rules to allow more state spending.

"We will ask for the rules to be changed, it is a necessary condition, otherwise people will die,” he told Radio Capital.

A former Treasury chief economist predicted the lockdown measures were reducing Italy's economic output by about 10 to 15 per cent, with the tourism and transport sectors down about 90 per cent on their normal levels.

Looking to mitigate the impact on ordinary Italians, the government is considering making banks offer customers a pause in their mortgage repayments. 

However the governor of Lombardy, where the majority of confirmed cases have occurred, said the restrictions should be ramped up in a bid to curtail the virus’s spread.

“I would shut down all the shops. I would certainly close down public transport and I would seek out all businesses that could be shut without creating excessive damage to the economy," Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana said.

The Vatican's St Peter's Square was unrecognisable on Tuesday. Source: AP

Tourists ordered to return to hotels

Italy has registered 9172 cases of coronavirus and 463 deaths since February 21, with Lombardy and neighbouring Emilia-Romagna bearing the brunt.

However, the disease has touched most of the country and the government is worried that if it worsens, the health system in the less-developed south will collapse, causing deaths to spike.

Rome landmarks including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps were largely empty on Tuesday, while the Vatican closed St Peter's Square and St Peter's Basilica to tourists. 

An armed guard outside the closed off Duomo di Milano. Source: Getty Images

Police told tourists to return to their hotels.

For at least the next three weeks, anyone travelling in Italy will have to carry a document declaring their reasons. 

Outdoor events, including sports fixtures, have been suspended, and schools and universities are all shut.

With AAP

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.