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HEALTH

Italy’s coronavirus deaths slow for second day in a row

Italy reported more than 600 deaths from coronavirus on Monday, a high figure that is nonetheless lower than the record death toll registered a few days earlier.

Italy's coronavirus deaths slow for second day in a row
A closed funeral in Bolgare, Lombardy. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Another 601 people have died from the COVID-19 virus since Sunday night, Italy's Civil Protection department announced on Monday evening, down from 651 in the previous 24 hours and a record 793 the day before that.

The number of new infections also rose at a slower rate: by 3,780 on Monday compared to 3,957 on Sunday.

Another 480 people were confirmed to have recovered, bringing the total to 7,432.

ANALYSIS: When will the coronavirus epidemic in Italy peak?

That leaves Italy with 50,418 active cases of the new coronavirus, including 20,692 patients in hospital and 3,204 in intensive care. The remaining 26,522 people infected are self-isolating at home.

In total Italy has now confirmed 63,927 cases of the virus since the outbreak began, 6,077 of them fatal.

“This is an extremely important week to assess the evolution of the epidemiological curve,” said the head of Italy's Higher Health Institute (ISS), Silvio Brusaferro. 

“Our task is to avoid the curves that we've seen in the north occurring in the south.”

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Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

The majority of Italy's cases have been in the north, mainly in the region of Lombardy where the first cases of community transmission were recorded in late February.

However, authorities are concerned that people who have travelled from north to south since then have spread the virus to Italy's poorer southern regions.

“The curve doesn't seem to be rising in the south, but in the press I've seen pictures of streets full of people, things we're not seeing elsewhere,” said Brusaferro. 

“If our attitude is rigorous and united throughout the country, there's a concrete possibility that we won't see the curve [in the south] following a similar path to that in the north. But if we're not rigorous, trends don't depend on latitude but on our behaviour.”

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

All 20 Italian regions have now reported at least one death linked to coronavirus, including sparsely populated Basilicata in the south which announced its first fatality on Monday.

More than half of the latest deaths – 320 – were in Lombardy, which has now had 3,776 fatalities among 28,761 cases.

Emilia Romagna (892 deaths as of Monday), Piedmont (315), Liguria (212), Le Marche (203) and Veneto (192) remain the next worst affected regions.

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 to predict.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.