Italy’s New Virus Cases Decline And WHO Sees Progress

Marco Bertacche, John Follain and Thomas Mulier

(Bloomberg) --

Italy appeared poised to extend its lockdown until Easter after it reported the smallest number of new coronavirus cases in almost two weeks and the World Health Organization forecast some stabilization in Europe as the most-afflicted country.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement late Monday that the government would follow the recommendation of its scientific advisers to extend the lockdown from the current deadline of April 3 until Easter at least.

New infections in the past 24 hours totaled 4,050, compared with 5,217 the previous day, civil protection authorities said Monday at their daily news conference in Rome. This is the lowest increase since March 17. Fatalities from the disease rose by 812 on Monday compared with 756 on Sunday, bringing the total to 11,591. Italy now has 101,739 total cases, the most after the U.S.

Mike Ryan, head of health emergencies at the WHO, said “our fervent hope” is that Italy and Spain are approaching a peak, and that European lockdowns which started several weeks ago will start to bear fruit. New cases now reflect exposure to the disease about two weeks earlier, he said.

“In the same way when we’re told that we’re looking at galaxies through a telescope that we’re seeing life from a billion years ago, we’re seeing a reality that existed before,” Ryan said. He warned that countries need to step up efforts to find and isolate patients to really fight the disease. “It won’t go down by itself. We need countries to focus on what is the strategy.”

Italian health authorities voiced the same line in a press conference on Monday. Still, restrictions on economic activity to contain the coronavirus can’t last too long, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in an interview with Spain’s El Pais Monday. Once the curve of new infections has started to descend Italy will study measures to ease restrictions, he added.

The head of Italy’s public health institute ISS, Silvio Brusaferro, said in an interview with la Repubblica that he expects the lockdown to be extended to Easter. He added that, while there are encouraging signs of a contagion slowdown, it’s too early to say and several days of diminished number of cases are needed to call it a trend.

Cases in Lombardy, the region around Milan that’s most heavily hit, rose by 1,154 Monday to 42,161, the smallest advance since March 13. Deaths rose by 458, marking an increase from Sunday, when 416 fatalities were recorded.

”There’s a significant drop in people going to the emergency rooms,” top Lombardy health official Giulio Gallera said in a video message. “The deaths daily count will be the last one to improve, unfortunately.”

(Updates with probable extension of lockdown to Easter starting in first paragraph)

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