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The coronavirus crisis is getting very real for the auto industry.

Last night the Italian government declared the world’s first nationwide quarantine to help stem the spread of the epidemic.

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The edict, which applies at least through April 3, has closed schools, canceled all public events and imposed travel restrictions except for business or health-related travel.

Most of Italy’s 60 million citizens also are being asked to stay at home. The quarantine does allow people to go to and from their jobs, although many companies are giving employees the option to work from home.

“We need to change our habits right now,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters last night.

Hotspot

Over the past two weeks, Italy has become the world’s second-largest hotspot for the epidemic—after China—with nearly 9,200 coronavirus cases and more than 460 deaths.

By comparison, the U.S. as of midday today had confirmed 675 cases and 26 fatalities. Worldwide confirmed cases and deaths were at 116,000 and 4,000, respectively.

It’s far from clear at this early stage how Italy’s lockdown will impact the country’s carmakers. Not to mention Italian auto suppliers, who ship parts to companies all over the world.

Business as Unusual?

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles tells Automotive News Europe it expects to maintain operations and sees no immediate need to modify the health precautions it has already put in place.

Ferrari tells ANE it will continue production as long as its supply chain holds up. Maserati reports it has asked essential staff to come in at its three Modena facilities. All others are to work from home.

Government officials acknowledge the immediate economic impact of the quarantine. But it contends that taking dramatic action now will avert worse far greater damage in the future. The country says it is spending $8.6 billion to help cushion the economic blow.

Western Test

In any case, Italy is the first Western country to take dramatic steps to slow the spread of the virus, now blamed for about 4,000 fatalities worldwide.

The unknown question is how the country’s inhabitants will react to the unprecedented lockdown.

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