Nearly 5,000 dead in Italy a month into coronavirus crisis

By Laura Serrano-Conde

Rome, Mar 21 (efe-epa).- Saturday’s one-month anniversary of the detection of Italy’s first coronavirus cases brought the grim news that another 793 people suffering from Covid-19 died overnight, bringing the death toll to 4,825, while the number of those infected reached 42,681, an increase of 4,821 over the previous day.

The ranks of coronavirus survivors also grew in the last 24 hours, from 5,129 to 6,072, Civil Protection Agency chief Angelo Borrelli said.

The fatality figure is the largest one-day total so far and represents a substantial deterioration, though not as dramatic as the leap from the previous one-day high of 485 to the 627 new deaths reported Friday.

Earlier this week, Italy surpassed China – where the outbreak began – as the country with the most deaths from coronavirus.

Lombardy, the northern region that is home to a fifth of Italy’s 60 million people, accounts for more than half of all coronavirus deaths in the country and upwards of 52 percent of active cases.

On March 8, the Italian government imposed a quarantine on Lombardy and other Covid-19 “hot spots.” The restrictions, which were extended two days later to the entire country, included cancelation of public events, a ban on gatherings, the shutdown of non-essential businesses and a prohibition of inter-city travel except when absolutely necessary.

As the number of infections continued to climb at an accelerating rate, officials in the hardest-hit cities and territories demanded tougher measures from the central government.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s administration added new restrictions on Friday, ordering all parks, public gardens and playing fields closed and mandating that people venturing out to exercise 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 are prohibited from traveling to those residences.

Those steps did not satisfy outspoken regional leaders such as Luca Zaia, president of Veneto, who said Saturday that he was ordering the closure of supermarkets in his jurisdiction.

“Walks should be banned,” he said, demanding that the national government impose “a more drastic isolation.”

Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister who heads one of the parties in the current coalition government, said that closing supermarkets would lead to longer lines outside groceries and other food stores, boosting the chance of contagion.

The top health official in Lombardy, Giulio Gallera, also recommended against shuttering supermarkets, even as regional president Attilio Fontana continued to call for more stringent measures.

The median age of people who have died from Covid-19 is around 80 and most of those victims had underlying medical problems, national health institute director Silvio Brusaferro told a press conference.

He reproached Italians for not “taking the danger seriously” and urged the elderly to remain in their homes.

“We are in a phase where the curve is still continuing to rise. We will see in the coming days if the (quarantine) measures are sufficient,” Brusaferro said.

In Lombardy, Gallera said that instead of becoming discouraged by the rising numbers, people should instead muster “stronger determination” to defeat the virus.

Italy’s first Covid-19 patient was a 38-year-old Lombardy man who went to a hospital in Codogno, some 60km (37mi) from Milan, on Feb. 18 complaining of intense flu symptoms.

Mattia (his surname is being withheld) declined to be admitted, but came back two days later in worse condition. Placed in intensive care, he tested positive for coronavirus on Feb. 21.

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