Coronavirus: Italy has a brief glimpse of hope as new cases drop to a five-day low

Stuart Lau

Italy’s number of new Covid-19 cases dropped to a five-day low on Monday, easing tension on overstretched hospitals and bringing a glimmer of hope to a nation that has lost more lives than any other country to the pandemic.

In Spain, however, more people died in the last 24 hours than at any point since the coronavirus outbreak erupted in what has become Europe’s second most devastated country.

Italian health authorities announced 4,789 new cases in the last 24 hours, a drop from 5,560 on Sunday and 6,557 on Saturday.

It was also lower than the levels of Thursday and Friday, when the figures for confirmed cases were still rising.

The number of hospitalised cases in Lombardy – the Italian region enduring the most serious outbreak – also declined for the first time since the contagion took root.

“Today is perhaps the first positive day we have had in this hard, very tough month,” said Giulio Gallera, the top health official in Lombardy, an area known as the economic engine of Italy.

“It is not the time to sing victory, but we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Health Councillor for the Lombardy region, Giulio Gallera, wearing a FPP2 face mask, outside a sports centre in Milan where an intensive care unit was set up during the coronavirus pandemic: “Today is perhaps the first positive day we have had in this hard, very tough month.” Photo: AFP

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has risen to 63,927 – compared to 81,093 in mainland China.

In total, 6,077 people have died in Italy due to Covid-19 – which leads all countries – including 601 who died in the last 24 hours, a decline from the weekend.

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The overall death rate from the pandemic in Italy has further risen to 9.5 per cent, far exceeding the global average of 4.4 per cent.

Of the confirmed cases, 3,204 were in intensive care, while 26,522 were under home quarantine.

As Italians watched the news with cautious optimism, Spaniards fear they remain on Italy’s previous upwards trajectory.

Spanish authorities announced 462 deaths in the last 24 hours, the country’s worst day since the start of the epidemic.

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A high-level health official in Spain suggested that the latest increase rate of daily new cases – at 14 per cent – could be the peak of the crisis, but he was far from certain.

“The increase reported every day is progressively softened. But we are still not sure whether we have reached the peak of the epidemic,” said Fernando Simon, emergency coordinator of the Ministry of Health.

In a worrying development, more than one in 10 of Spain’s total confirmed coronavirus cases were nearly 4,000 health workers.

Spanish first deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, shown on March 6, has been hospitalised for respiratory infection, and awaiting results of a Covid-19 test. Photo: EPA-EFE

Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, was hospitalised with respiratory infection on Sunday, the government said; she was awaiting coronavirus test results.

Two other ministers and the wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past weeks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been tested negative but will undergo further tests, her spokesman said on Monday. Merkel has been working from home, under quarantine, since Sunday because she had met a doctor who was tested positive for coronavirus.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the country had been placed under a lockdown for at least three weeks to slow the spread of Covid-19, saying that “the way ahead is hard” and warning a national audience that “many lives will sadly be lost”.

Earlier on Monday, the government said that 54 more people had died in the previous 24 hours after testing positive for the coronavirus, raising the country’s pandemic death toll to 335.

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The number of confirmed cases rose to 6,650 on Monday, from 5,683 on Sunday.

Britain sent in the army to deliver protective equipment to hospitals and told people to stay at home and heed warnings over social distancing, or the government would institute more extreme measures to stop the coronavirus spread.

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