‘Do not let your guard down’: Spike in Italy’s coronavirus deaths shows small signs of slowing

Italian health officials voiced cautious hope on Sunday after the coronavirus death toll edged down from the previous day's world record and the rate of infections slowed.

'Do not let your guard down': Spike in Italy's coronavirus deaths shows small signs of slowing
'Together, without fear': A public health notice in Naples. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

The country's world-topping toll from its month-long crisis approached 5,500 and the number of COVID-19 infections neared 60,000.

But top health officials sounded — while not upbeat — encouraged to see daily deaths fall back from Saturday's grisly 793 to a slightly less shocking 651.

ANALYSIS: When will the coronavirus epidemic in Italy peak?

The number of new infections rose by a relatively modest 10.4 percent.

“The figures announced today are lower than those for yesterday,” Italian civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.

“I hope and we all hope that these figures can be borne out in the coming days. But do not let your guard down.”

Italy has sacrificed its economy and liberties by shutting down and banning almost everything to halt the spread of a virus the government views as an existential threat.

READ ALSO: How authorities are battling to keep Italians at home

Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took the extra step on Saturday of announcing plans to close “non-essential” factories until April 3.

Conte has also indicated that the national lockdown will almost certainly be extended for an unknown number of weeks or even months.

Saturday's record death toll suggested that everything the Italian authorities were trying was failing. Sunday's numbers suddenly gave them hope.

“We must not get too enthusiastic or over-interpret things,” the government's scientific committee expert Franco Locatelli cautioned. But, he added: “It is a sign that we welcome positively”.

Italy's toll since the day the first European died of COVID-19 in Milan's Lombardy region on February 21 now stands at 5,476.

“These figures are always a matter of either seeing the glass as half full or half empty,” said Lombardy's regional health chief Giulio Gallera.

“Today, the glass is half full. But we are not declaring victory just yet.”


Containment measures around Lombardy have been in effect since March 8 — five days longer than for Italy as a whole.

Some of the local measures around Milan's financial district and surrounding towns are even stricter that those for Italy as a whole. Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana created international headlines on Saturday by banning jogging.

Both local and national officials pleaded with Italians while announcing their restrictions to give up their freedoms for the nation's good for two weeks.

The two-week deadline in Lombardy expired on Sunday. The stakes were high — and the new numbers showed the measures might just be bearing fruit.

Milan's region reported just 30.4 percent of Italy's new infections on Sunday. It had reported 51.6 percent of the infections on March 8.

It had also been reporting about two-thirds of Italy's coronavirus deaths throughout the crisis. The region of 10 million officially registered 55.5 percent of Sunday's COVID-19 deaths.

Yet a range of other statistics pointed to a world-class healthcare system that was being tested to the utmost.

Sunday's figures showed the number of patients receiving intensive care rising above 3,000 for the first time. There were just 650 intensive care patients with COVID-19 two weeks ago.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Europe: An inside view of how the situation compares in different countries

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”