Italy has added a record 969 people to its COVID-19 death toll as a top public health official said the country’s devastating coronavirus outbreak was nearing its peak.
A total of 9134 people have died from the disease, the Italian Civil Protection Agency said, by far the biggest number recorded by any country in the world.
“Our enemy is invisible, strong and unknown,” government health sector commissioner Domenico Arcuri said as he presented the daily statistics on Friday.
Friday’s figures included 50 dead from the northwestern Piedmont that were missing from Thursday’s data. Discounting for this, the daily dead count should be lowered to 919, still a one-day record.
The agency also said total infections, including deaths and recoveries, rose to 86,498, meaning that Italy’s tally surpassed China and was roughly level with the United States.
Recoveries were up by about 6.0 per cent 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 per cent, to 3732.
Italy’s latest figures included 4401 new contagions, a 6.6-per-cent daily increase that is consistent with the trend recorded in recent days.
Experts see this as evidence that the contagion is slowing down. Earlier this month, the increase in new contagions was on some days above 20 per cent.
“From March 19-20 (…) the curve seems – and I stress the word ‘seems’ – to be flattening,” National Health Institute President Silvio Brusaferro said before the release of Friday’s data.
“We have not reached the peak, we have not gone past it,” he added. “We have signs of a slowdown that lead us to presume that we are near this situation.”
“Contagions are definitely not increasing and I think they are starting to fall,” the head of the northern Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, said in another press conference.
Lombardy, which includes Italy’s financial and fashion hub, Milan, is the flashpoint of the epidemic, with almost half of total cases and nearly two-thirds of deaths.
On Friday, the region reported 1706 new cases, a 7.7-per-cent increase, and 541 more fatalities, bring total cases to more than 37,000 and the dead to a staggering 5402.
Mr Brusaferro called for no let-up in virus containment measures, amid concerns that the contagion crisis may shift to poorer southern regions.