But what happens in Italy if this week passes with no significant reduction in the rate of new infections? When asked, Bassetti breathed out a long sigh.

“Then I guess we would have to tighten the rules even more, as the Chinese did in Wuhan,” he said, referring to the Chinese city where the coronavirus first appeared last year. “We’d have to lock everyone in their homes with no option to leave under any circumstances. We’d have to deploy the military in the streets to force anyone who steps outside to go back home.”

After a pause: “Every part of me hopes it doesn’t come to that,” he said.

Riccardo Alcaro, a research coordinator for the Institute of International Affairs, a Rome-based think tank, agreed.

“If the numbers don’t start to come down there are only two explanations,” Alcaro said. “Either coronavirus infections were far more widespread than we have been able to prove, or the lockdown measures put in place were not strong enough.”