Italy recorded 3,599 new cases Monday, its lowest daily rise since Mar. 17, pointing to signs that the virus may be easing up on the region. In a statement, the Civil Protection Agency – the country’s analog to the CDC – also reported that the number of patients under intensive care also fell for the second day running, despite a rise in deaths. According to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University, Italy has 132,547 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,523 deaths – the highest in the world.
Health authorities believe that the nationwide lockdown, which took effect on March 12, could account for the steady dip in new cases. As of Tuesday, the country reported 22,837 recoveries against 21,815 a day earlier.
The Italian government also announced that it will offer over €400 billion (US$430 billion) in liquidity and bank loans to companies that have been affected by the coronavirus crisis. Together with a previous stimulus package unveiled in March, the program would allow banks to offer more than €750 billion in credit in an attempt to keep the EU’s third-largest economy afloat.
According to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the stimulus is “real firepower” and is the most powerful intervention in the country’s history.
“I cannot remember such powerful measures being introduced in the history of our republic to help with the financing of our businesses,” he stated at the end of a cabinet meeting.
In particular, the new package will primarily aid export-oriented companies whose turnover has imploded over the past month. The government has already said that it will enable measures to protect Italian companies that have been impacted by the economic crisis and preventing them from being taken over by foreign competitors.
“This moment of [difficulty] will not translate into an opportunity to prey on Italian companies,” added cabinet undersecretary Riccardo Fraccaro.
It’s worth noting that Italy enjoys a close relationship with China, where the coronavirus pandemic started. Last year, the country signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China regarding its participation in China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative – the only country in the G7 bloc to do so.
During the coronavirus crisis, the Chinese government has sent medical supplies to Italy, a move made to assert Beijing’s influence in the country. Propaganda machines have posted videos of grateful Italians praising China for its generosity, especially since France and Germany had already imposed a ban on the export of face masks.
ZTE, which runs a 5G innovation in central Italy, has donated 2,000 masks to the region, while Huawei has offered to set up a cloud computing network in a bid to connect hospitals around the region with those in Wuhan, China – a move that raised eyebrows, given that it raises issues for data protection and the control of critical infrastructure.
In addition, Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed launching a new “Health Silk Road,” where China will share its lessons in its fight against the coronavirus with its partners around the world – even as Beijing is dogged by controversy with its handling of the coronavirus, with its propaganda machines hard at work to disassociate the virus from China.
Italy’s swingeing lockdown, which is already on its fifth week, will remain in place until April 13th – a day after Easter Sunday – at the earliest. However, the measures are expected to be extended beyond the date, as the government is looking to loosen the measures “very gradually.”
In a statement, Conte noted that the next step is implementing “phase two” of the shutdown, where measures will be set for “coexisting with the virus.” Afterward, he added that the country can move forward to “phase three,” where things will gradually get back to normal. To note, no date for the start of “phase two” has been proposed.
“From an epidemiological point of view, we can start talking about ‘phase two’ when there are no more infections,” explained Nino Cartabellotta a leading public health expert from the country’s group for evidence-based medicine.
In the United States, members of the White House’s coronavirus task force have recently referred to Italy as an example of how the coronavirus could impact the country. As the Mediterranean country is slowly progressing in its fight against the virus, Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force has noted the drop is “what gives [the team] a lot of hope.”
“We’re seeing in New York exactly what we saw in Italy: very low mortality. Not to say that young people under 30 or young people under 40 aren’t getting ill,” she added. “They are, but most of them are recovering. So the profile looks identical to Italy, with increasing mortality, with age and preexisting medical conditions.”
Learn more about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.