Italy tightens lockdown as Covid-19 death toll surges past 4,000

Rome, Mar 20 (efe-epa).- The Italian Health Ministry responded Friday to the country’s biggest one-day death toll from the Covid-19 coronavirus by intensifying the nationwide quarantine imposed 10 days ago to slow the contagion.

“We have to do even more to contain the infections. Correct behavior from everyone is essential to win this battle,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement.

Effective Saturday and continuing until March 25, all of Italy’s parks, public gardens and playing fields will be closed, while people venturing out to exercise will have to remain close to their homes and maintain a minimum distance of a meter (3.2 ft) from others.

In addition, Italians who have vacation homes in the countryside will be barred from traveling to those residences.

The original lockdown mandated that people leave their homes only to go to work, shop for food and other essentials, seek medical treatment or exercise.

But mayors and regional presidents shocked to see large number of people in parks called on the central government to clamp down, as did Red Cross officials from China – where the outbreak began – during a visit to Italy this week to brief officials on how Chinese authorities managed to bring the pandemic under control.

The leader of the northern region of Lombardy, ground zero for the pandemic in Italy, advocated putting soldiers on the streets to enforce the lockdown.

“The presence of the troops has a great dissuasive effect. One thinks twice about going out when one sees an army patrol pass by,” Attilio Fontana said.

Fatalities related to the pandemic increased by 627 in the last 24 hours to 4,032 and the number of active cases reached 37,860 with 4,670 new confirmed infections, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said Friday.

Another 5,129 people diagnosed with the virus have recovered.

“Unfortunately, we have registered 627 (new) deaths. I want to stress that they have died having coronavirus, not because of it,” agency director Angelo Borelli told a news conference.

Doctors say that many of the nearly 10,000 people who have died worldwide during the pandemic had underlying conditions that made them especially vulnerable to Covid-19.

More than half of the newest fatalities were in Lombardy, Italy’s economic heartland, which has lost 2,549 people to the coronavirus so far.

And Lombardy, with roughly a fifth of the Italian population, accounts for 22,264, or nearly 60 percent, of current cases nationwide.

Despite the record one-day death toll, Borelli said that a decline in the rate of contagion showed the steps taken so far were delivering results.

“Maybe the peak won’t come next week, but the week after,” he said.

Borelli said that the number of available beds in intensive care units has been increased from 5,400 at the start of the crisis to 8,000 now thanks to the construction of field hospitals and reconfiguration of space inside existing facilities. EFE ccg/dr

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