Italy has extended its lockdown until 13 April but recorded its lowest death toll in more than a week, reinforcing indications that the coronavirus epidemic both there and in Spain may be reaching a plateau.
“Experts say we are on the right track and the drastic measures we have taken are starting to yield results,” said the health minister, Roberto Speranza. He warned, though, that it would be “unforgivable to assume this was a definitive defeat” of Covid-19 and it would be “a long battle”.
Italy’s civil protection authority announced on Wednesday that the country’s tally – already the highest in the world – had climbed by 727 deaths to 13,155, and that the number of confirmed infections, including deaths, recovered and current cases, had risen by 4,782, taking the total to 110,574.
But the daily rise in the number of deaths was sharply down on Tuesday’s figure of 837, and the 2,937 new active cases represented an increase of 3.8% – more than the previous day, but confirming a declining trend. Two weeks ago, infections were rising at between three and four times that rate.
“The curve tells us that we’re at a plateau,” Silvio Brusaferro, the president of Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS), said earlier on Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean we’ve hit the peak and that it’s over, but that we must start the descent … by applying the measures in force.”
According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, the pandemic has infected more than 870,000 people worldwide and killed more than 43,000. Nearly half the world’s population are living under some form of requested or mandatory confinement.
While China, where the outbreak originated, continues to report almost no domestic transmissions, a US intelligence report to the White House suggested Beijing was underreporting the numbers of both total cases and deaths the country has suffered.
Three unnamed security officials told Bloomberg the secret report alleged that China’s reporting of virus data was intentionally incomplete, and two of them said the report concluded that China’s numbers were fake. Deborah Birx, the state department immunologist advising the White House, said on Tuesday she thought that “probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain”.
Spain, which crossed the threshold of 100,000 confirmed cases on Wednesday and reported another record single-day death toll of 864, is now following a similar pattern to Italy, with officials saying on Wednesday they were starting to see a “trend change”. The two countries have the highest global death tolls in the pandemic.
Between 15 and 25 March, new cases in Spain were growing at a rate of 20% a day. From 25 March, that rate dropped to 12% and lower. María José Sierra of Spain’s centre for health emergencies said the latest figures indicated the increase in new cases was continuing to level out.
“Generally speaking, we can say that yesterday’s rise in cases, which was around 8%, tells us that we’re carrying on in the stabilisation phase of the pandemic,” Sierra told a press conference.
In the US, meanwhile, deaths from the coronavirus topped 1,000 in New York City as authorities warned that the worst was yet to come, while Florida officials were locked in a standoff with two cruise ships steaming toward the coast.
In California, the number of people being taken to hospital nearly doubled over the past four days and the number of intensive care patients tripled. US deaths, which have exceeded those in China, could reach 240,000, according to the White House, with Donald Trump warning the country should expect a “very, very painful two weeks”.