Italy recorded another 743 dead from the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday as the government passed harsh new penalties for people who breach the country’s lockdown.
The daily death toll was close to the record 793 who died on Saturday and dashed hopes, fuelled by Monday’s lower death toll of 602, that the outbreak could be on a downward trend as illustrated in the below graph.
The new figure brought Italy’s overall death toll to 6,820, with nearly 70,000 confirmed cases.
Officials did note, however, that the rate of new infections had slowed to eight per cent, the lowest level since the outbreak was detected on Feb 21.
“The measures we took two weeks ago are starting to have an effect," Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Civil Protection Agency, told La Repubblica newspaper before the new numbers came out.
As Italy struggles to handle the world’s most deadly outbreak, the cabinet approved tough new sanctions to force people to stay at home.
The fine for people who are caught outside their homes without a valid motive was raised from the current €206 to a maximum of €3,000.
People who have contracted the coronavirus but go outside, endangering others, could be jailed for up to five years.
The existing lockdown could be extended to July 31, although the government said it was constantly under review.
That would deliver a hammer blow to an economy that has already been weakened by the quarantine regime.
Under new restrictions announced at the weekend, people are ordered to stay in their municipality.
They are only allowed to travel for pressing needs such as going to work or buying medicine. Shopping must be done at the nearest food outlet.
Since the lockdown was imposed, police and soldiers have carried out two million spot checks on people, asking them where they are going and for what purpose. More than 90,000 people were found to be flouting the law and issued with penalties.
Pietro Manfredi, a mathematician who models infectious diseases, said that even when the number of infections and deaths begins to fall sharply, Italy will have to keep its guard up.
“We will have won the battle but not the war because a large part of the population will still be susceptible to the virus and therefore at risk if it is reintroduced.”
An elderly priest who died from coronavirus after giving a respirator to a younger patient was hailed a hero in the country’s grim battle against the pandemic.
Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, refused to use a respirator his parishioners had bought for him and instead insisted that it should go to a younger patient.
He died in a hospital in a town near Bergamo. He had been a priest in the village of Casnigo for 14 years.
“He was a very kind person and always made himself available to everyone, believers and non-believers. He was a priest who was loved by everyone,” said Giuseppe Imberti, a former mayor of Casnigo.