Officials urged the country not to flout the stringent foreclosure measures they said were starting to pay off, although new cases increased by 4,805 on Saturday, which was slightly higher than recent daily increases.
The Civil Protection Department has reported 681 deaths, bringing the total to 15,632 since the outbreak of the new coronavirus epidemic in northern Italy on February 21. This is the smallest daily increase in deaths since March 23.
The total number of confirmed cases increased to 124,632 from 119,827 reported on Friday, but for the first time, the number of patients in highly stretched intensive care units decreased, with 3,994 patients treated, compared to 74 versus 4,068 on Friday.
“This is important news because it allows our hospitals to breathe,” said civil protection manager Angelo Borelli during a daily briefing where he announced the grim daily record of the epidemic. of the deadliest disease in the world.
For days, Italian officials said that overall stable increases in the number of cases suggested that the epidemic had plateaued and that the numbers would begin to drop – if strict lockdowns were followed.
But as Easter approached and video footage circulating on the social networks of groups walking outside in cities such as Naples, Rome and Milan, there was concern that signs of progress would lead more people to break the rules.
“Some images posted on social networks, which show a slackening of the behavior of certain people – fortunately only a few – should not be taken as an example, they should be deplored,” said Domenico Arcuri, government special commissioner for the coronavirus. emergency.
“We cannot have the idea that we have already arrived at the time of returning to normal,” he said.
The government of Lombardy, the northern region at the epicenter of the crisis where more than 49,000 cases have been registered, made a similar plea and issued a directive ordering people to cover their mouths and noses when they come out.
Italy is still one of the countries hardest hit by the new coronavirus, accounting for almost a quarter of the world’s deaths from COVID-19, the highly infectious disease associated with the virus.
But as more and more countries in Europe have reported serious epidemics, they have become less outlier.
As the number of cases flattened in Italy, there has been more and more discussion of the possibility of rolling back a lock that has closed most businesses and dampened an already fragile economy.
With government looking for ways to protect the economy, a senior official said he plans to expand his powers to protect key companies from foreign takeovers.
Additional reports by Giulio Piovaccari; Editing by David Clarke
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