The total number of people who have died in connection with the outbreak in Italy is now nearing 5,500.
The numbers are expected to continue to rise, with nationwide quarantine measures implemented on March 10th not expected to start showing results for at least a few more days.
Experts have predicted the number of cases will peak in Italy at some point from March 23 onwards – perhaps in early April – though many point out that regional variations and other factors mean this is very difficult, if not impossible, to predict.
“The data on mortality are deepening with the medical records of the deceased,” said the president of Italy's Higher Health Institute (Istituto Superiore di Sanità, or ISS), Silvio Brusaferro, as he presented the latest set of data on Friday.
The picture is very similar to that given by previous statistics in Italy: the median age of the deceased is 80, the majority of victims are male, and they had an average of 2.7 pre-existing health conditions.
“Patients who died with coronavirus have an average age of over 80 years, 80.3. The peak of mortality is in the 80-89 year age range. Lethality, ie the number of deaths among the sick, is higher among those over 80,” stated Brusaferro.
The fatality rate among those aged under 30 is currently zero, and for under 40s it's 0.3 percent.
It's important not to confuse data on deceased patients with the overall data on patients diagnosed with the illness, the ISS stressed.
The study showed a 17-year difference between the average age of the deceased patients, and that of the virus-positive patients in general.
ISS data showed that almost 25 percent of all infected patients in Italy were between the ages of 19 and 50 years old.
A police officer speaks to people passing through a road checkpoint in Italy. Photo: AFP
“Although preliminary, these data confirm the observations made so far in the rest of the world on the main characteristics of patients, in particular on the fact that the elderly and people with pre-existing diseases are more at risk,” commented ISS president Silvio Brusaferro.
“These are very fragile people who often live in close contact with others, and who we must protect as much as possible.”
But while both Italian health officials and media have been quick to point out that those at highest risk are elderly people with pre-existing health conditions, that fact does very little to reassure people – particularly in a country with a population as elderly as Italy's.
EU statistics show Italy has the oldest population in Europe by almost any count.
“The lethality by age group in Italy is not higher than that of other countries,” Graziano Onder, Associate Professor of Geriatrics at the the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Policlinico A. Gemelli in Rome, told Italian media.
He pointed out that the Italian population has “a very high average age, and a significant percentage of the population has multiple diseases, a factor that increases the risk of death. It is no coincidence that the average number of pre-existing condtions observed in the deceased is 2.7 “.
This article was originally published on March 11, 2020, and has been updated with the most recent data.
Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here.