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

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.

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

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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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].”