Italy's coronavirus death toll passes 100,000, with cases rising

Citizens attend the unveiling of a memorial for Covid deaths in Codogno, northern Italy, where Europe's first case of locally spread Covid-19 was found on February 21, 2020.
Citizens attend the unveiling of a memorial for Covid deaths in Codogno, northern Italy, where Europe's first case of locally spread Covid-19 was found on February 21, 2020. © Luca Bruno, AP

Italy became the second European country to pass the bleak milestone of 100,000 fatalities from Covid-19 on Monday, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi warning of further pain ahead as hospitalisations jump.

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The Italian health ministry said 318 new deaths from the disease had been recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to 100,103.

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the novel coronavirus 13 months ago. It is now the second in Europe to record more than 100,000 deaths, after the United Kingdom.

It took nine months for the country to register its first 50,000 deaths, and just three and half months to double them.

Infections rose 23 percent last week by comparison with the week before and health officials have warned that the country faces a fresh surge of cases as a more contagious variant of the disease, first detected in Britain, gains ground.

Draghi acknowledged that the situation was deteriorating, but he said his government was going to "significantly step up" its vaccination campaign.

"The pandemic is not yet over, but with the acceleration of the vaccine plan, a way out is not far off," he said in his first public address since taking office last month.

Like in other European Union countries, Italy's vaccination campaign has got off to a slow start, hit in part by delivery delays from drug manufacturers.

As of Monday morning, 5.42 million shots had been carried out, with 1.65 million of Italy's 60-million-strong population having received the recommended two doses. The government is considering switching tactics to give priority to first doses rather than stockpile second doses.

Real toll may be higher

The health ministry said there had been 687 new hospital admissions over the past 24 hours, up from 443 on Sunday. The total number of patients in intensive care increased by 95, to 2,700.

Italy went into a draconian lockdown last March to slow the virus's its advance. New cases fell sharply during the summer, but a second wave slammed the country in the autumn.

After subsiding in January, infections have been pushing up again, and authorities said on Friday that the average reproduction number had risen to 1.06 – the first time it had moved above the threshold of 1 for seven weeks.

An "R" number above 1 indicates infections will grow at an exponential rate.

Data released on Friday suggested the toll might be higher still. Statistics bureau ISTAT said there were 100,525 excess deaths in Italy last year compared with the 2015-2019 average, more than the 75,891 deaths officially linked to coronavirus in 2020. 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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