Italy’s coronavirus death toll rises steeply again but rate of new infections offers hope

Italy's coronavirus death toll rises steeply again but rate of new infections offers hope
The mayor of the Vertova, near Bergamo, Lombardy, talks with residents on Tuesday in the village, where 36 people have died of coronavirus in 23 days. Photo: AFP
Italy reported a sharp rise in its coronavirus death toll on Tuesday, with 743 more victims, breaking a two-day trend that had fuelled hopes the epidemic may be slowing in the country. However there was some more positive news.

There had been 601 deaths reported on Monday, and 651 on Sunday.

But Tuesday's daily toll was the second-highest recorded in Italy since the crisis began.

Civil protection agency figures showed that, while the number of new cases was up on Monday's figure, the infection rate was slightly lower.

There were 5,249 new cases reported on Tuesday, meaning there have now been more than 69,000 cases confirmed in the country since the outbreak began just over a month ago.

This figure includes 6,820 deceased patients, and 8,326 who have recovered, meaning there are currently 54,030 active cases.

Almost 900 people had recovered in the past 24 hours, the figures showed.

ANALYSIS: When will the coronavirus epidemic in Italy peak?

Despite the rise in deaths, there was some evidence that the coronavirus infection rate may be slowing thanks to national quarantine measures.

As a percentage, the rate of officially-registered new infections was just eight percent – the same as Monday and the lowest level since Italy registered its first death on February 21.

The number of new infections had been as high as 50 percent at the start of March.

Health officials are poring over every new piece of data to see whether two weeks of bans and closures have made a dent in the crisis.

The harshest restrictions are theoretically due to expire on Wednesday evening, although the government is all but certain to extend them in some form for weeks or even months.

“The measures we took two weeks ago are starting to have an effect,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli said earlier on Tuesday.

He said more data over the next few days will help show “if the growth curve is really flattening.”

An intensive care unit for coronavirus cases at the Casal Palocco hospital near Rome. Photo: AFP

However, Borrelli also noted that the real number of infections was probably 10 times higher than the official count.

Speaking before Tuesday's toll was announced, he said it was “credible” to assume “there is one infection counted for every 10 that are not”.

Few scientists expect Italy's numbers – if they really are dropping – to follow a steady downward line.

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.
 
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.

Experts 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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