From Monday, restaurants, shops & schools will shut in more than half of Italy, including the two most populous regions containing Rome and Milan with PM Mario Draghi warning of a “new wave” of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Residents will be required to stay at home except for work, health or other essential reasons.
The extra restrictions would last until Easter, Mr Draghi’s office said, and over the Easter weekend the whole country would be turned into the high-risk “red zone”.
“I’m aware that today’s restrictions will have consequences on the education of your children, on the economy and on everyone’s mental health,” Mr Draghi said.
“But they’re necessary to avoid a worsening of the situation that would require even stricter measures.”
Cases have been rising across Italy for the past six weeks, exceeding 25,000 a day.
In a majority of the country’s regions “hospitals and above all intensive care units are already overloaded”, the GIMBE health think-tank warned this week, the AFP news agency reported.
The island of Sardinia is the only region where infection rates are low.