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COVID-19 batters Italy as lockdown deadline nears

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-03-29 08:53
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On-board systems operator Carmelo Rapicavoli works on board a helicopter as it flies over the Sicilian port city of Catania to patrol citizens as officers patrol citizens as Italy tightens measures to try and contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Catania, Italy March 28, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

ROME -- The COVID-19 pandemic continued to claim victims in Italy as the deadline for the end of the government's national lockdown drew closer and experts warned it is too soon to lift restrictions.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that the entire country of some 60 million people would remain under lockdown until April 3 in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

As of Saturday the total number of infections, fatalities and recoveries rose to 92,472, according to the latest data released by the Civil Protection Department. The death toll was 889 on Saturday, pushing the total to 10,023 fatalities since the pandemic first broke out in northern Italy on Feb 21.

Speaking during a nightly televised press conference, Civil Protection Department Chief Angelo Borrelli also confirmed that there are 3,651 new coronavirus infections compared to Friday, bringing the nationwide total to 70,065 cases. Of those infected, 26,676 are hospitalized and 3,856 are in intensive care. He added that there were 1,434 recoveries, bringing the total to 12,384.

On Saturday, leading Italian virologist Roberto Burioni wrote on Facebook that "at this time the situation remains so serious that any idea of relaxing the restrictions any time soon is unrealistic… We must stay home, or the sacrifices we have made so far will have been in vain."

He was echoed by Fabrizio Pregliasco, a research fellow at Milan University's Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health, who told ANSA Italian news agency in an interview that "realistically, we will have to wait at least until the end of April" to lift the restrictions. "There won't be one single peak in the cases but… various peaks occurring throughout the national territory, at different times," Pregliasco added. "Therefore, the most effective weapons (against the virus) for now are isolation (of infected people) and restrictive measures."

As well, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told Sky Tg24 private broadcaster in an interview that "if we look at yesterday's data, I think April 3 is too soon" to relax the lockdown.

Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli told RAI News 24 the same thing: "There are some elements that lead us to say that the April 3 deadline will probably have to be extended." "We are watching the situation as it unfolds, so decisions will be made when the situation with regard to the numbers of deaths and infections calms down," she said. Meanwhile, Italy continued to purchase supplies for hospitals and emergency personnel who are on the frontlines of the fight against the virus.

The Public Informational Services Dealer (CONSIP), a procurement company that is wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance, said on Saturday that it has obtained the delivery from various parts of the world of almost 100,000 endotracheal tubes, over 870,000 surgical masks, 12 million items of protective gear for medical and civil protection staff (including gloves, visors, and suits), and almost 170,000 swabs to test for the virus. CONSIP added that 370 intensive and sub-intensive care ventilators arrived from Hong Kong earlier in the day. The effort is being undertaken in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, the Finance Guard, and the Customs Agency, CONSIP said. "These are significant results, given the known issues with logistics, the closure of flights and borders, and domestic transportation difficulties," it said.

Also on Saturday, the National Confederation of Farmers (Coldiretti) warned that the prices of basic foods such as grain and rice are on the rise as "governments are concentrating on feeding their own populations while the virus interrupts supply chains worldwide amid fears of a global food crisis". The "tendency to stockpile has been confirmed in Italy as well," with marked rises in consumer purchases of flour (99.5 percent), rice (47.3 percent), and semolina pasta (41.9 percent) "during the five weeks ending on March 22," Coldiretti wrote.

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