Italy on Wednesday extended its stringent lockdown measures against the novel coronavirus for another two weeks as the death rate slowed.
The country reported 727 more deaths from the coronavirus compared with 837 a day before, bringing the total number of victims to 13,155, still the highest globally.
The number of fatalities and new cases being reported are lower than figures seen over the past few weeks, however, supporting experts’ expectations that the contagion’s peak may be approaching.
Active cases were up 3.8% from Tuesday, reaching 80,572, while the number of recovered patients rose to 16,847.
“We cannot plan an easing of the lockdown yet,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a televised press conference Wednesday evening as he officially announced the extension of the lockdown to April 13.
Conte stopped short of providing a precise timing for when the lockdown will be lifted.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza earlier in the day had already informed parliament that the government was planning to extend the nationwide quarantine.
“We must not view the first positive signs as an all-clear signal,” he said. “The data shows we are on the right path and that our drastic decisions are bearing fruit.”
However, he warned that the “battle is still very long.”
The quarantine extension was widely expected, but the government faces growing fears of social unrest, especially in the poorer southern regions.
To curb the rising risk of social turmoil, the cabinet is mulling an unprecedented emergency handout focusing on workers who were employed in Italy’s large underground economy and lost their jobs due to the lockdown.
Conte is also weighing the risk of relaxing the quarantine rules too soon against the huge economic fallout from the strict lockdown, which is expected to push the country’s already fragile economy into a dangerous recession.
After first appearing in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, the virus, officially known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 176 countries and regions.
The global death toll from the virus has hit 46,252 with 921,924 confirmed cases and 192,964 recoveries, according to US-based Johns Hopkins University.
The coronavirus attacks the respiratory tract with the potential to cause pneumonia and death.
Despite its severity, most people experience mild symptoms and recover, but the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are particularly vulnerable to the virus.