Calling the coronavirus outbreak a "national emergency," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte-led Italian government on early Sunday locked down much of the country's north, including Venice and Milan, restricting movement for about a quarter of the Italian population in regions as the number of deaths surged to 366.
The regions serve as the country's economic engine and the move is tantamount to sacrificing the Italian economy in the short term to save it from the ravages of the virus in the long term, The New York Times reported.
"We are facing an emergency," Conte said in announcing the government decree in a news conference.
"A national emergency," he stressed.
By taking such tough measures, Italy, which is suffering the worst outbreak in Europe, noted that the measures "very rigorous" but necessary to contain the contagion and ease the burden on Italy's strained health care system.
By Saturday, Italy had more than 5,800 cases of the virus, with increases of almost 800 infections.
Only China has had more people die after contracting the virus.
Conte did not say how long the restrictions would last, but an earlier draft weighed by the government on Saturday night said the decree would be in force until at least April 3.
The travel bans are expected to prevent the free movement of roughly 16 million people.
The prime minister also announced that the government would extend less restrictive measures previously imposed in the north, such as the closure of museums, movie theaters, discos and betting parlors, to the rest of the country.
He said conferences of doctors and other medical professionals would be "absolutely" banned.
"We cannot allow it," he noted.