Italy's coronavirus indicators keep improving despite slowdown in vaccine rollout
Italy's main coronavirus indicators continued to improve on Monday, a week into the country's latest easing of health restrictions and despite a slowdown in vaccine rollout.
The latest data from the Ministry of Health showed 7,970 new coronavirus infections Monday, the second time the national one-day figure was under 8,000 in a week and a level not seen since mid-October. Based on the seven-day moving average, the number of new infections has been on an overall decline since peaking at nearly 40,000 in November.
The ministry said COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, claimed 307 lives over the last 24 hours, a slight increase from 270 a day earlier but still the third-lowest one-day count of this year.
Other indicators tell a similar story. There were more than 15,000 recoveries reported Monday, nearly double the number of new cases, bringing the total number of active cases below 420,000 for the first time since Nov. 3. The last time recoveries failed to outnumber newly reported cases was in mid-November.
The one outlier among the main indicators was the number of patients in intensive care units, which remains stubbornly high. There were 2,143 such cases on Monday, an increase of 36 compared to Sunday. Monday's number was down by just 145 compared to ten days ago and 401 fewer than 20 days ago.
Virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco called the overall situation in Italy "essentially stable" and said that if that continues, restaurants might reopen in the evenings for the first time in months, at least in low-impact regions.
"We are demanding a marathon from our fellow citizens," he said. "If there are common sense and systematic compliance with the protocols already in place, then a reopening is possible."
The developments come after the country's easing of health restrictions in most regions starting Jan. 31. A further easing for some regions went into effect Monday.
One of the regions that have still not seen its health status loosened is Umbria, a landlocked region of nearly 900,000 residents in the central part of the country.
Umbria was not hit particularly hard by the earlier waves of the pandemic, but now, according to the newspaper La Repubblica, a new patient is being hospitalized every hour. Il Messaggero, another leading newspaper, said that many of the new infections are related to the more contagious variants first detected in Brazil and Britain.
In Rome, police have been active in enforcing quarantine rules, issuing 40 fines, and arresting one individual for serious breaches of health rules over the weekend. All told, more than 60 people were sanctioned for illegal gatherings or inadequate mask-wearing. The biggest bust was of a clandestine party in the capital's affluent neighborhood of Prati, where, according to media reports, 15 young party-goers were fined a total of 6,000 euros (7,250 U.S. dollars).
Italy's vaccine rollout continues to lag behind its goals due to delivery shortfalls from vaccine makers. According to calculations from the Hume Foundation and the news agency ANSA, if the current pace of immunizations is not sped up, Italy will not achieve herd immunity before August 2023.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in many countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.
Meanwhile, 238 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 63 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Feb. 2.