By Giada Zampano
ROME (AA) - Italy on Tuesday reported 604 more deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 17,127 -- the highest worldwide -- but registering the lowest rise ever in the number of active infections.
Tuesday’s record low rate in the rise of contagions -- down from the double-digit increases in the early stages of the outbreak -- supports the government's hopes that a plateau in the contagion curve has been reached.
Current infections grew 0.9% from Monday to 94,067 -- the slowest rise since the start of the outbreak in Italy. The number of recovered people also continued to rise, climbing to 24,392, while the number of intensive care patients dropped for the fourth consecutive day.
The epicenter of the Italian outbreak remains the northern Lombardy region, which now counts 9,484 victims.
In its ongoing battle to contain the outbreak, the Italian government has extended an almost-total lockdown -- which halted most production and business activities in Italy -- until at least April 13.
However, authorities are worried that the nice weather, coupled with the upcoming Easter vacation, will push more people outdoor, multiplying the risks of restarting the contagions’ rise.
"In these few days ahead of Easter, please never forget that this virus has already taken more than 16,500 human lives," said Domenico Arcuri, the government special commissioner for the emergency, "I beg you, in the next hours do not cancel this number from your memory."
Arcuri also stressed that Italy is entering a long phase of transition, quashing hopes that the quarantine measures may be lifted shortly after the Easter.
"Be aware of optical illusions, of dangerous mirages. We are not a few steps from exiting the emergency," Arcuri added.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte repeatedly said the government would start softening the measures only when scientists approved such a move, without providing a specific date.
The government on Monday approved a new package of measures aimed at helping businesses of all sizes to cope with the heavy fallout from the pandemic, which risks plunging Italy’s fragile economy into a massive recession.
The new emergency package grants new liquidity and bank loans worth more than €400 billion to companies damaged by the outbreak and the lockdown.
"This is real firepower… I can't remember of such powerful measures introduced in the history of our Republic," Conte said on Monday evening, announcing the new economic package.