In a joint appeal to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and President Sergio Mattarella, scores of scientists urged Italy's leaders to “take stringent, drastic measures over the next two or three days”.
Italy's new cases currently stand at a record high, with over 16,000 more infections confirmed on Thursday alone – but while individual regions are declaring local curfews, the national government has so far resisted imposing countrywide restrictions.
“As scientists, researchers and university professors we believe it is necessary and urgent to express our strongest concerns about the current phase of the Covid-19 pandemic,” reads the letter, cited by Ansa news agency.
“The longer we wait, the harder the measures will have to be and the longer they'll have to last, thus resulting in a bigger economic impact,” wrote the signatories, who include economists as well as scientific experts.
They referred to a recent estimate that if coronavirus deaths continue to increase at similar rates, within weeks Italy could lose as many as 500 people per day to Covid-19.
That analysis comes from theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi, who in a blog for the Huffington Post calculated that if current trends continue, Italy would find itself in the same health crisis as March “within three weeks”.
While the country has massively expanded its testing capacity since then, the percentage of swabs coming back positive has risen worryingly in recent weeks, hitting 9.4 percent nationwide.
Meanwhile admissions to intensive care as well as deaths are increasing, with another 136 fatalities reported on Thursday.
The next two weeks will be crucial for Italy, Parisi warned, calling for “drastic measures NOW”.
The only way to avoid a 'hard' lockdown is to monitor exactly where, when and how infections are taking place, he argued, which would require a massive increase in data collection in an extremely short timeframe.
A growing number of Italian experts are now urging the government to take tougher action.
Earlier this week, public health doctor Walter Ricciardi, one of the government's top advisors on Covid-19, warned that tracing and testing was no longer enough to control the surge in Italy's biggest cities and urged politicians to “be brave”.
While Prime Minister Conte has encouraged people to “limit unnecessary travel”, he also insists that Italy does not need to resort to another nationwide lockdown of the kind it imposed in spring, which shuttered schools and businesses and kept the public almost entirely confined to their homes.
“Now we're in a different situation that we were in in March: back then we didn't have the means to diagnose, now we're readier thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of all,” he said.
Yet there is concern that Italy's hospitals will find themselves under severe strain once more, as the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care approaches 1,000 and the total number of people in hospital tops 10,000.