Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte echoed Winston Churchill’s words from World War II and promised ‘massive shock therapy’ to address outbreak’s impact

Meanwhile, six inmates were killed in a prison riot and guards were taken hostage at another jail as unrest spread in prisons across the country

Italy is facing its “darkest hour” as it battles against the novel coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday, repeating Winston Churchill’s famous words from World War II.

“Over the past days I thought back to about what I read on Churchill: it is our darkest hour but we will make it,” Conte told the

newspaper.

Conte also promised “massive shock therapy” to overcome the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, after his government shut off much of the country’s industrial and business heartland to combat the crisis.

Conte’s comments came after the government imposed a

of Lombardy and parts of neighbouring Veneto to try to curb the spread of the virus in Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe.

“We will not stop here. We will use a massive shock therapy. To come out of this emergency we will use all human and economic resources,” he said.

The measures announced over the weekend were unprecedented in Italy’s post-war history and reflected the rapid spread of the virus since it emerged in a small town outside the financial capital Milan last month.

In a little over two weeks, the number of recorded cases has surged to 7,375 with 366 deaths, putting the health system under massive strain, with intensive care facilities struggling to handle the influx of new cases.

With Italy’s economy already on the brink of recession, the measures clamp down on movement in and out of Lombardy, Italy’s richest and most economically productive region, which includes Milan, and close many public spaces.

Sports facilities, bars and restaurants were ordered to close or to restrict entry and maintain a distance of at least a metre between people on their premises.

International flights in and out of Milan’s Malpensa airport have been suspended, increasing pressure on sectors from manufacturing to tourism which had already been hit by plunging orders and cancelled bookings.

Meanwhile, six inmates were killed in a prison riot and guards were taken hostage at another jail, as unrest spread in prisons across the country over measures to contain the coronavirus, including restrictions on visits.

In a TV interview the head of Italy’s prison administration Francesco Basentini said three inmates had died inside a jail in the northern town of Modena, and three others had died after being transferred away from the prison.

“There have been a series of rebellions across the country,” Basentini said. Video shown on Italian television showed police and fire trucks outside the prison as black smoke swirled into the sky.

The justice ministry said fires had been set at a number of prisons causing severe damage.

Prison guards union Sappe said two guards had been taken hostage in the northern city of Pavia and were released after a police raid.

In an emergency decree on Sunday, the government imposed limits on direct contact between inmates and their families. Prisoners will be allowed to contact visitors by phone or other remote methods under the measures, in place until March 22.

Modena and Pavia are within the red zone that the government has established to limit the coronavirus contagion.

Justice ministry sources said two of the deaths in Modena were caused by an overdose from drugs found in the jail infirmaries, while a third prisoner was found blue in the face and the cause of the death was still unclear.

The prison unrest could add to political pressure on the government coalition of the centre-left and the anti-establishment 5-Star movement. Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said: “The gates of the prisons shouldn’t be thrown open with the excuse of the revolts.”

Meanehilr, in Spain, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases almost doubled overnight, with acute concentrations in the capital Madrid and the Basque country.

The number of cases jumped to 999 on Monday from 589 on March 8, the health ministry said.

The Spanish health ministry was holding an emergency meeting with the Madrid regional government around noon to discuss possible reasons for the spike in cases in and around the capital.

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