Coronavirus is making cities go quiet.

The usually vibrant, bustling metropolis of Milan in Italy's north transformed overnight into a virtual ghost town on Thursday as a further clampdown on public life to stem spread of the virus kept people indoors and businesses shuttered.

Italy's economic powerhouse and second-largest city, Milan is a cosmopolitan hub of banking, fashion and design that pulsates with a modern energy that its beautiful but sleepy rival, Rome, to the south cannot match.

Milan became a ghost town overnight
Milan became a ghost town overnight AFP / Miguel MEDINA

But on Thursday, the city of 1.4 million people was at a standstill, grey, sad, and silent.

A decree announced by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday night completely shut restaurants, bars and stores up and down the country for at least two weeks to stop people from assembling and spreading the virus that has already killed 827 people in Italy.

The harsher restrictions - and increasing fear - are turning Italy's cities into nearly abandoned zones, repeating a phenomenon that first occurred in Wuhan and other Chinese cities, and is increasingly seen in once-crowded areas of other global cities, from Boston and Seattle to London.

In Milan, the 19th century equestrian statue of Vittorio Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy, gazed glumly over the city's central square, the vast Piazza del Duomo, which was nearly deserted.

A shopping mall, without the usual bustle
A shopping mall, without the usual bustle AFP / Miguel MEDINA

The screech of still-running trams could be clearly heard amid the quiet, and taxi drivers waited in lines for fares who never arrived.

Only a few cyclists pedalled beneath the spires of the city's famous Gothic cathedral, while the rare pedestrians were police on patrol, checking to see that people were not circulating without a good reason.

Even before the new regulation, Milan had been on lockdown, as was the entire region of Lombardy, which has borne the brunt of the coronavirus epidemic that has infected over 12,000 in the country. Schools and museums closed, travel was restricted and waves of tourists abandoned the city.

But the latest blow seemed to suck even more life from the city, as grey skies added to the already ghostly atmosphere.

Residents expressed resignation, accepting that their city and country had little choice.

"The government measures are necessary," said Daniele Gilardini, 50. "We have to get out of this emergency situation."

Another, Matteo Moschino, 39, said he hoped that sacrifices today would pay off soon.

"Closing the bars, the restaurants and all the rest was the only way to try to stop what's going on and be able to get back to a normal life as quickly as possible."