Italy reports first drop in number of coronavirus patients in intensive care

Members of the medical staff carry a patient infected by the novel coronavirus at the High Intensity Medicine department of the Circolo di Varese hospital in Italy on April 3, 2020.
Members of the medical staff carry a patient infected by the novel coronavirus at the High Intensity Medicine department of the Circolo di Varese hospital in Italy on April 3, 2020. © Miguel Medina, AFP

The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in Italy fell for the first time, the civil protection authority said on Saturday, while the country’s death toll from the epidemic rose by 681 to 15,362, a somewhat lower rise than ones seen in recent days.

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There were 3,994 people in intensive care in Italy, down from a previous 4,068, the first time the total had fallen since the outbreak of the epidemic in northern Italy on February 21.

"This is very important news," civil protection authority chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters of the drop over the past 24 hours. "It allows our hospitals to breathe."

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 124,632 from the 119,827 reported on Friday, an increase of 4,805, slightly higher than the numbers over recent days that have encouraged hopes that the spread of the coronavirus has reached a plateau.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 20,996 were declared recovered on Saturday, compared with 19,758 a day earlier.

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No false hope

Borrelli has been extremely careful not to give Italians false hope in his daily rundown of how many people have died there. But his tone Saturday was markedly more upbeat.

He cast the figures showing Italy's toll rising by 681 to 15,362 – officially higher than in any other country – in a positive light.

"This figure is constantly decreasing," the civil protection service chief stressed.

"I want to remind you that [on March 27], we had almost 1,000 dead."

Italy recorded 969 deaths that day – a record that stood until the United States reported nearly 1,500 fatalities between Thursday and Friday.

But officials here are still not declaring victory. Instead some are preparing the country for at least another month of life under a general lockdown that many would like to see end.

The drop in critical care patients "is a strong signal but it should absolutely not be read as a sign that we have overcome the critical stage," the government's scientific council head Franco Locatelli said. "It shows that the measures that we have been applying have had success."

Milan's northern Lombardy region – home to 10 million people and over a fifth of Italy's total economic output – had been under lockdown since the end of February.

The measures there are getting more stringent by the day.

It banned jogging two weeks ago and announced a requirement for everyone to ware a facemask starting Sunday.

The region's shops will also have to provide customers with disposable plastic gloves.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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