COVID-19 deaths in Italy pass 23,000 as it prepares for 'Phase Two'

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People wearing face masks are seen on a street in Milan, Italy, on April 18, 2020. A further 482 people had died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours in Italy, raising the country's death toll to 23,227, official data showed on Saturday. (Xinhua)

A further 482 people had died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours in Italy, raising the country's death toll to 23,227, official data showed on Saturday.

The total number of confirmed cases -- combining active infections, fatalities and recoveries -- rose to 175,925, an increase of 3,491 against Friday, according to fresh figures from Italy's Civil Protection Department.

Also, there were 2,200 additional recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing the total recoveries to 44,927, since the pandemic first broke out in the northern Lombardy region on Feb. 21.

Of the total 107,771 active infections, 2,733 patients are in intensive care, down by 79 compared to the previous day; another 25,007 are hospitalized in normal wards, down by 779; and 80,031 (or 74 percent) are isolated at home because of asymptomatic or light symptoms.

"We are experiencing a large-scale tragedy (and) we have not defeated it yet -- these are the hard facts," Domenico Arcuri, the Italian government's special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, said at a Saturday's press conference.

To prevent this tragedy from repeating after the end of the nationwide lockdown, Arcuri said: "we must continue to act with the caution and the prudence we have learned over the past months."

The lockdown that went into effect on March 10 will continue until May 3, which will be followed by a so-called "Phase Two," involving "the gradual resumption of social, economic and productive activities," the Italian government has explained.

No ecomomic recovery without health

Arcuri said that there is no competition between health and economic recovery. "Without health and safety, the economic recovery would last the blink of an eye," he warned.

"We must continue to balance these two aspects, which are not in conflict with one another: progressively relaxing the containment measures ... while guaranteeing health and safety to the maximum possible number of citizens," he said.

The commissioner also said: "For Phase Two, we are ready to supply the national territory with all the needed equipment today. This does not mean that Phase Two should begin today."

Arcuri said that while it is not his job to decide when Phase Two should start, it is his job to "make sure we are ready" when it does. He summed this up as: "The government gives us the input, and we guarantee the output."

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last month named Arcuri as a "commissioner with ample powers to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of intensive care machines and medical equipment" during the coronavirus emergency.

Three arrows

Arcuri went on to say that there are "three arrows to our bow: swabs, blood tests, and contact-tracing" and that "we will have to use them massively" to keep the pandemic under control during Phase Two. The swab test refers to the coronavirus testing which takes a sample from the throat or nose.

He added that a new contact-tracing mobile phone app, commissioned by the government, is "being tested." The next step will be to roll it out in some parts of the country on an experimental basis.

He did not say which parts of the country, but indicated they should be "one in the North, one in the central regions, and one in the South."

The app "will be fielded in the near future, when we will promote its use among citizens."

"Bending Spoons has donated the contact-tracing app to the government," he added, referring to the Milan-based tech company which designed the app.

"No one is making money on this. Using the app will be voluntary -- no one will be obligated to install it on their mobile phone," he specified.

Arcuri also said that according to experts, at least 70 percent of the population should use the app in order to achieve meaningful results.

"We expect a very high number of citizens will install it," Arcuri commented, adding that the app "will guarantee anonymity completely."

Arcuri also said that over the past week "we delivered 25.5 million surgical masks" and "we distributed 280,000 swabs a day" to regional public health authorities across Italy.

"Since the beginning of the emergency we have distributed 109 million masks (and) and installed 3,720 ventilators in Italian hospitals," he said. "Finally we have enough ventilators for intensive and sub-intensive care units across Italy."

Arcuri also said that the government on April 17 put out a tender offer to companies who developed a blood test that can detect antibodies to the new coronavirus.

"We expect solidarity to win over earnings and profits, and that companies will offer their products for a very low, indeed a symbolic price," the commissioner added.

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