Despite coronavirus infection spike, experts say Italy better off than in spring

For four consecutive days, Italy’s daily coronavirus infections have set new highs, increasingly dwarfing the original high set during the darkest period of the country’s struggle against the pandemic. But health experts say the severity of the country’s outbreak remains less intense than it was seven months ago — at least for now.

On Wednesday, the highest one-day infection total of 6,554, set on March 21, was surpassed when the country recorded 7,332 infections in a single day. Since then, the number has jumped by an additional 1,471 on Thursday, 1,207 on Friday, and then 915 to end up with Saturday’s grim total of 10,925.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if the number of infections kept rising for a while, but there’s still no comparison to where we were back in March and April,” Francesco Luchetta, a coronavirus data analyst, told Xinhua.

“For a start, the totals from early in the pandemic came from only testing people who had symptoms. Now, we are testing many times more people including those who might have been exposed.”

Fabrizio Pregliasco, a researcher with the Department of Biomedical Health Sciences at the University of Milan, said the understanding of the virus now is another important factor in helping keep the pandemic at bay more effectively than in the spring.

“We understand the therapies that work better now and the health system is more prepared,” Pregliasco said in an interview. “The numbers are on the rise but we have to maintain control of the situation and not let the virus spread unchecked.”

Italy has taken steps to halt the spread of the virus, including making masks obligatory nationally while outside, and putting restrictions on school activities, sporting events, restaurants and bars, and social events. More restrictions are likely to be unveiled in the coming days.

But despite the restrictions, the infection rate has climbed: Saturday was the sixth consecutive day and the 11th time in 14 days that the daily number of infections in the country rose. One positive sign is that the mortality rate and the number of patients in intensive-care units have not climbed at the same rate as the infection rate.

On Saturday, there were 47 deaths and 705 patients in serious conditions, far below the 793 deaths and 2,857 intensive-care patients on March 21, when the peak infection numbers for the first wave of the pandemic was recorded.

Government officials say they will turn to another national lockdown like the one in place from March to May only as a last resort.

“Everything has to be done to avoid a lockdown,” Francesco Le Foche, a clinical immunologist with the Umberto I Polyclinic at Rome’s La Sapienza University, told Xinhua. “We have an advantage compared to other European countries because of the first lockdown was long and largely effective. But we’re going to be fighting this pandemic for months, and if we follow the rules for mask-wearing and social distancing and the other recommendations, we can do it without a new lockdown.”