ITALY’s coronavirus death toll rose sharply on Monday as new cases of infection dropped – offering hope lockdown measures in the country could be eased.
On Monday, 636 COVID-19 deaths were recorded, bringing the total to 16,523 – but new cases increased by 3,599 to 132,547, the lowest daily rise since March 17.
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The new figure saw an increase of 100 on Sunday’s toll since of 525, after dipping below Britain’s for the first time the day before.
Before Monday, daily increases since March 17 had all been in a range of 4,050-6,557.
The number of patients in badly stretched intensive care units also fell for a second day running, while new cases saw their smallest rise in five days, increasing by 4,316.
Italian health chiefs are now discussing how to go about lifting lockdown restrictions – first imposed on March 9 – under “phase two” of the country’s coronavirus strategy.
Silvio Brusaferro, head of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy’s top health institute, said: “The curve has reached a plateau and begun to descend.
“It is a result that we have to achieve day after day.
“If this is confirmed, we need to start thinking about the second phase and keep down the spread of this disease.”
Health Minister Roberto Speranza outlined a series of measures, including more testing and a beefed up local health system, intended to allow a gradual easing of restrictions.
“There are difficult months ahead. Our task is to create the conditions to live with the virus,” at least until a vaccine is developed, he told La Repubblica.
The national lockdown, strictly limiting people’s movements and freezing all non-essential economic activity, will officially last until at least April 13.
But it is widely expected to be extended, and Speranza said it was too early to say when it could be lifted.
The minister said he had issued a note outlining five principles around which the government planned to manage the so-called “phase two” of the emergency – when lockdown restrictions begin to be eased but before a full return to normal conditions.
He said social distancing would have to remain, with wider use of individual protection devices such as face masks.
And local health systems would be strengthened, to allow a faster and more efficient treatment of suspected Covid-19 cases, he added.
Testing and “contact tracing” would also be extended, including with the use of smartphone apps and other technology, while a network of hospitals dedicated solely to treating corona patients would be set up, he said.
But despite the light at the end of the tunnel, officials were keen for Italians not to get complacent.
Angelo Borelli, head of the Civil Protection department, told a daily briefing yesterday: “Don’t lower our guard, stay at home.”
In Spain, the death toll dropped again today, with 637 patients dying overnight, taking the total to 13,055, the government said.
Though Spain has the second-highest death toll in the world after Italy, the number of deaths each day has been falling since Thursday’s peak of 950, according to health ministry figures.
Monday’s data showed total cases up 4,273 to 135,032 – from 130,759 the previous day.
Meanwhile, France has seen its biggest daily increase in coronavirus deaths, making it the worst affected in Europe ahead of Italy and Spain.
On Monday, a further 833 people had died from COVID-19 in 24 hours – bringing the total number of fatalities in the country to 8,911
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