Rome, Italy – Italy will remain in full lockdown until May 3 to stem the tide of new coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Friday.
“If we gave up now, we would put all the positive results achieved so far at stake and restart with a new rise in the death toll,” Conte said.
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The country has already spent a month under strict measures limiting the freedom of movement of its citizens.
Since February 20, when coronavirus was first detected in the northern town of Codogno, Italy has recorded the world’s highest death toll.
Cautious optimism as Italy shows initial signs of crisis slowing [2:43]
On Friday, the country’s Civil Protection agency announced that deaths rose by 570 within 24 hours to 18,849. This was an increase of 3.1 percent, the lowest daily growth since the beginning of the outbreak.
The infection rate has slowed since April began and, after weeks struggling with a surge of patients in critical condition, health facilities are experiencing some relief. A week ago, there were 4,068 people being treated in intensive care units. By Friday, that number had dropped to 3,497.
These trends are opening space for speculation about entering into a possible “phase two” – a period during which economic activities could reopen, and citizens regain some limited freedom of movement while learning to live with the virus in their midst.
The news about some regional governments using antibody tests to identify asymptomatic cases has contributed to a cautious but growing enthusiasm.
But Conte dashed such hopes on Friday. “We need to keep our attention threshold high,” he said, making a specific reference to the Easter holiday.
The only few concessions announced regard businesses such as timber companies, bookshops and stores selling children’s supplies, which can reopen from April 14.
Conte did, however, leave some spark of hope, stressing that, if the infection rate allows any further easing before May 3, the government would pursue it.
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Curve still rising
The latest decree comes after health experts advised the government about the risks connected with any relaxation.
“The epidemic curve is still rising, not bending. It has just slowed down,” Walter Ricciardi, executive board member of the World Health Organization (WHO) and consultant for the Italian health ministry, told Al Jazeera.
He underlined that the lockdown could be lifted after the infection rate comes as close as possible to zero. “It must be at least below 0.5 [percent daily growth]” he said.
Ricciardi was also sceptical about the possibilities offered by antibody checks.
“Plenty of serological tests have been introduced into the market, but none of them fulfil the requirements regarding sensibility and specificity entirely.”
Has lockdown worked?
“Restrictions on mobility had progressively reduced the infection capacity of every single person by 45 percent as of March 25,” Professor Marino Gatto of Politecnico di Milano told Al Jazeera.
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With colleagues from a range of universities, Gatto developed an epidemiological model to understand the full spread of the infection. If it were not for the lockdown, Gatto believed hospitals could not have coped with the wave of admitted patients.
“In the worst-case scenario, health facilities would have faced an additional 200,000 patients,” he said.
The GIMBE Foundation, a leading public health think-tank, has forecasted that new infections would reach the 0.5 percent growth rate only by May 7.
China relaxed its measures only after new infections in Hubei Province dropped to 0.1 percent daily growth.
Ricciardi acknowledged the value of such academic forecasts, but stressed that every decision should be based only on real data.
“The time needed to slow down the infection here looks higher than in Wuhan. If we keep this pace, we will need a longer period,” he said.
“Decisions can be revised only every 15 days,” Ricciardi said. “That is the incubation period – and also the lapse in which we can see the effects of our directives.”
Italy posts more grim coronavirus records as deaths, cases rise
Italy has posted more grim records related to the new coronavirus, becoming on Friday the second country after the United States to overtake China in terms of infections as it announced almost 1,000 deaths in a day – a worldwide record since the epidemic began. Officials said the number of cases had risen to 86,498…
Italy has posted more grim records related to the new coronavirus, becoming on Friday the second country after the United States to overtake China in terms of infections as it announced almost 1,000 deaths in a day – a worldwide record since the epidemic began.
Officials said the number of cases had risen to 86,498 in Italy, as 919 more people died in the space of 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 9,132 – the world’s highest.
China has so far recorded 81,782 cases and 3,291 deaths.
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Italy’s 4,401 new contagions in one day mean a 6.6 percent daily increase that is consistent with the trend recorded in recent days.
The gruesome milestones nevertheless came on the same day Italian health officials said they were seeing a slight slowing down in new positive cases, two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.
The Civil Protection Agency noted that the cumulative death tally of 9,132 included 50 fatalities that actually occurred on Thursday in the northern Piedmont region, but whose notification arrived too late to be included in the official figures for March 26.
Recoveries are up by about 6 percent to 10,950, while the number of intensive care patients – a closely watched figure given the shortage of hospital beds – has risen by 3.2 percent, to 3,732.
In a rare, televised address to the nation, Italian President Sergio Mattarella warned that the European Union had to react before it was too late and should adopt new measures to confront the threat posed by the coronavirus,
“New initiatives are vital, overcoming old ways of thinking that are now out of touch with the reality of the dramatic conditions facing our continent,” Mattarella said on Friday.
“I hope everyone fully understands, before it is too late, the seriousness of the threat faced by Europe.”
Meanwhile, Spain’s Health Ministry reported another 7,800 infections overnight, lifting the total to 64,059. Deaths climbed by 769 to 4,858 – the world’s second-highest toll after Italy’s.
Spain says 9,444 health workers have contracted the coronavirus – worryingly accounting for almost 15 percent of the total number of cases.
“It’s true that we have more deaths than what we saw yesterday, but it’s also true that the percentage increase today is similar to that of the past three days and it appears there is a stabilisation,” said Fernando Simon, the head of Spain’s health emergency coordination centre.
Europe is now the worst-hit continent.
Italy reports nearly 800 coronavirus deaths in largest daily rise
The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has leapt by 793 to 4,825, officials said, by far the largest daily spike in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago. The total number of coronavirus cases in Italy rose to 53,578 from a previous 47,021, an increase of 13.9 percent, the…
The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has leapt by 793 to 4,825, officials said, by far the largest daily spike in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago.
The total number of coronavirus cases in Italy rose to 53,578 from a previous 47,021, an increase of 13.9 percent, the country’s Civil Protection Agency said on Saturday.
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Italy has reported 1,420 deaths since Friday. On Thursday, it overtook China as the country to register most deaths from the highly contagious virus.
The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remains in a critical situation, with 3,095 deaths and 25,515 cases so far.
The Mediterranean nation of 60 million has been under an effective lockdown since March 12, when public gatherings were banned and most stores shuttered.
Police were out in force across the streets of Rome on Saturday, checking documents and fining those outside without a valid reason, such as buying groceries.
Joggers were asked to run around the block of their houses, parks and beaches were closed, and the government in Rome prepared to extend school and other closures into the summer months.
Global epicentre of the virus
But the outbreak keeps gathering pace in the new global epicentre of the virus.
First reported in December in China, it has since transformed the world, straining healthcare systems, upending the lives for millions and pummelling global stock markets.
The figures released showed deaths still largely contained to Italy’s richer north, whose world-class healthcare system is under strain but still not breaking.
It is much better than what is available in the poorer south, whose regions have registered a few dozen deaths each – and which the government in Rome is watching closely.
The National Health Institute (ISS) said the average age of coronavirus victims was 78.5, and the average age of those infected 63.
Italy’s figures are being watched closely by other governments as they try to formulate an urgent response to the rapidly unfolding crisis.
In Italy, deaths and funerals in isolation bring unknown pain
Rome, Italy – The image of Italian army trucks escorting coffins as a local crematorium was unable to cope with the number of bodies coming in shocked the citizens in Bergamo city this week. The footage, which caught international attention and was shared widely on social media, was a stark reminder of how grave the coronavirus…
Rome, Italy – The image of Italian army trucks escorting coffins as a local crematorium was unable to cope with the number of bodies coming in shocked the citizens in Bergamo city this week.
The footage, which caught international attention and was shared widely on social media, was a stark reminder of how grave the coronavirus outbreak is in the northern region of Lombardy.
“If this keeps going for six months, we will have to prepare the plot for mass graves,” Carlo Rossini, a worker at the Funeral Honours Agency La Bergamasca, told Al Jazeera.
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Italy is Europe’s epicentre of the coronavirus with more than 47,000 infected, and days after the truck images were circulated, the number of deaths in the country rose further, surpassing the toll in China, where the outbreak originated.
On Friday, Italian officials said death toll rose by 627 in 24 hours, to 4,032, the largest daily jump since the virus emerged in February.
With more than 5,150 people infected, the northern province of Bergamo has become the hotbed of the virus, taking over the areas where the infection broke out in the country.
Authorities disclose only regional data, so there is no specific count on the victims in the province.
The final death toll could be higher than the official statistics.
“There are significant numbers of people who have died but whose death hasn’t been attributed to the coronavirus because they died at home or in a nursing home and so they weren’t swabbed,” Giorgio Gori, mayor of the town of Bergamo, told Reuters news agency.
Italian military trucks and soldiers are seen by Bergamo’s cemetery after the army was deployed to move coffins from the cemetery to neighbouring provinces, after the cemetery was overwhelmed by the scale of the coronavirus outbreak [Sergio Agazzi/Fotogramma via Reuters]
Gori said there were 164 deaths in his city in the first 15 days of March this year, of which 31 were attributed to the coronavirus. That compares with 56 deaths over the same period last year.
In another video widely shared on social media, dozens of coffins awaiting burial are lined up along the walls of a local cemetery church.
“There are roughly 25 deceased that need [burying] and 25 whose wish was to be cremated, every day,” Giulio Dellavita, the secretary of a local diocese, told Al Jazeera. “Even with the crematorium working 24 hours, we cannot take care of more than 40 per day.”
About 30 military trucks have crossed Italy’s Bergamo, from the cemetery to the highway, with about 70 coffins of people killed by coronavirus that the cemetery can no longer manage: there are too many and will be cremated or buried elsewherehttps://t.co/OBTvmfIyuK
— Alfons López Tena (@alfonslopeztena) March 19, 2020
Psychological wound: ‘A beloved disappears suddenly’
Rossini’s La Bergamasca agency, where he has worked for 10 years, offers funeral services in the whole province of Bergamo.
Neither he nor his elder colleagues have ever witnessed anything similar to the current pandemic.
Since the beginning of the month, Rossini has already buried 95 people. For all of them, there was no ritual whatsoever.
The lockdown enacted by the Italian government in Lombardy on March 8 banned any public solemnities.
“Funerals present the same risks as any other gatherings. I had patients who contracted the virus at a ceremony in Puglia,” Alessandro Grimaldi, head of the infectious diseases unit of L’Aquila hospital, told Al Jazeera.
When an infected patient dies in the hospital, his body is sealed directly inside the coffin, and then delivered to the graveyard.
If the family has not been quarantined, they can join a local parish priest protected with gloves and mask and recite a short prayer before the burial.
Otherwise, they must wait until the crisis is over and the lockdown lifted to say their final goodbyes.
In an overwhelmingly Catholic country like Italy, this halt represents a significant disruption in the public and personal perception of death.
“A beloved one disappears all of a sudden, and this opens a deep psychological wound,” father Giulio Dellavita said.
After relatives test positive for the coronavirus, anyone who had direct contact with them must enter a 15-day quarantine and notify local health authorities.
This means patients have no direct contact with the family. And if a patient’s condition worsens, there might be no chance of meeting them alive any more.
For those who have lost their kin, the diocese has activated a phone line.
“Imagine: you are at home with your mother, who abruptly feels sick. The ambulance comes and picks her up. From now on, you will never see and hear her again. All of a sudden, you receive the address of her tomb,” Dellavita said.
“People start wondering: what would she have thought? What should I have told her? You cannot properly digest this loss.”
‘We cannot pay tribute altogether’
Dellavita has the first-hand experience of the new way loss is being experienced.
Two weeks ago, one of his spiritual brothers fell sick. An ambulance took him to the local hospital.
Since the religious brothers all live together, Dellavita underwent a 15-day quarantine. His “sibling” died in the meantime.
“It was when I understood the pain of these families,” Dellavita said.
“We were his community. And everyone had to pray for him on his own because we cannot even gather in the house to pay tribute altogether.”
Like all the other victims, Dellavita’s brother will have his proper ceremony only after the pandemic is gone.
Cries, worships and memories will have to wait until then.
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