Coronavirus: The data from France, Italy and Spain that provides a glimmer of hope

While the epidemic situation across Europe remains extremely serious, there are numbers coming out of Italy, Spain and France - the three worst affected countries so far - that give cause for cautious optimism.

Coronavirus: The data from France, Italy and Spain that provides a glimmer of hope
France, Spain and Italy are the hardest hit countries in Europe so far. Photo: AFP

The latest statistics on recovery rates, intensive care admissions and death rates from these countries is providing a small gleam of hope in what remains a very serious situation.

All three countries are still reporting hundreds of deaths every day, and each have imposed strict lockdown measures on their populations, which are likely to continue for weeks if not months.

France, Italy and Spain have all imposed strict lockdown measures in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Photo: AFP

Health systems in all three countries are struggling with the sheer number of cases of coronavirus and medics have reported extremely difficult situations in which they are forced to make heartbreaking decisions.

But while no-one is suggesting we get complacent about the sheer scale of the challenge facing all three governments, scientists say there is some emerging data that gives them cause for cautious optimism.

Daily death tolls

The question everyone is asking is 'when will this peak and then start to get better' but the one thing that virtually all medical and scientific experts agree on is that this is impossible to predict with any kind of accuracy.

Italian epidemiologist Pierluigi Lopalco has been widely quoted as saying that predicting any further than three days ahead “would involve relying on a crystal ball”.

Italy reported more than 800 deaths on Monday, and while this figure is shockingly high, it is still down from the 969 deaths recorded on Friday.

Italian health authorities have urged caution and said it is too early to declare a trend, but there is some hope that the numbers will continue to slow.

In France and Spain numbers are still rising every day, and these countries are generally estimated to be between one week and 10 days behind Italy in the progress of the epidemic.

Emergency departments in Spain are under severe pressure. Photo: AFP 

Hospital/intensive care admissions

Experts say this is the crucial number to watch with France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon saying this is “the most important number to give an indicator of coming days”.

Coronavirus patients display a wide range in the severity of their symptoms – for around 80 percent of people the symptoms are relatively mild and do not require hospital treatment. However around 15 percent develop pneumonia type symptoms and breathing difficulties, while five percent develop very severe symptoms – often but not always patients who are elderly and have underlying health conditions.

The number of people who need intensive care treatment and ventilators is putting a severe strain on health services in all three countries.

Of the people who need intensive care treatment, the average patient is there for 14 to 21 days before they either recover or die – therefore the number of intensive care patients provides a crucial indicator of the likely death rate for the coming days.

It is also the number that public health bosses are looking at anxiously to see if they have the facilities they need for such critically ill patients.

And in all three countries, the number of new patients being admitted to hospital per day is slowing, with the trend particularly marked in Italy.

This graph shows from Spain show the number of hospitalisations (blue) recoveries (green), admission to intensive care (yellow) and deaths (red) through March. Graphic: Ministerio de Sanidad

“We can be cautiously optimistic for Italy,” Marie-Paule Kierny, former deputy director of the World Health Organisation, told French newspaper Le Parisien.

Despite the overall trend there are still concerns for medical facilities where a lot of cases are concentrated, especially as more cases are reported in southern Italy which in general has fewer facilities than in the north.

In France patients have been airlifted or shipped by special trains out of the worst affected regions in the east of the country.

An exhausted medic takes a break in a Paris hospital. Photo:AFP

Recovery rates

While deaths naturally grab the headlines, it remains the case that the majority of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus will recover and go home.

Calculating recovery rates is tricky because, as with the death rate, there is a time lag. So the people leaving hospital now will have been infected two to three weeks ago – before lockdown measures began in France and Spain.

Calculating them as a percentage of the total number of cases is even more problematic because countries have very different testing policies and pretty much the only constant is that the officially confirmed cases are just a fraction of the number of people who actually have the virus.

Nevertheless, the numbers of patients recovering from coronavirus are encouraging.

On Monday the French public health body listed 792 patients who has recovered and been sent home, set against 424 who had need ventilating that day.

In Italy on Monday 1,590 people recovered – the largest number of recoveries in a single day since the outbreak began.

Of Italy's 101,793 confirmed cases since the outbreak began, 11,591 people have died and 14,620 are listed as having recovered.

Italy has also seen a marked slowdown of new cases reported in recent days, with Monday's new cases around 1,000 lower than the new cases over the weekend.


* Data cited in this article comes from Santé Publique France, Johns Hopkins University, Spain's Ministerio de Sanidad and Italy's Protetzione Civile

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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].”