Italy could relax lockdown measures within weeks, but much of Europe reels as virus nears peak

Italy could relax lockdown measures within weeks, but much of Europe reels as virus nears peak
By: WNG CNBC Posted On: April 09, 2020 View: 7

Italy could relax lockdown measures within weeks, but much of Europe reels as virus nears peak

Federico Mantova owner of "Donna Gnora" farm, that delivers fruit and vegetables with rowing boats, and David Angeli sail the Grand Canal for the deliveries on April 08, 2020 in Venice, Italy.

Simone Padovani/Awakening

Italy could look to ease some of its stringent lockdown restrictions at the end of April, the country's prime minister has said, once again calling on Europe to help the country at the epicenter of the continent's outbreak.

It comes as Italy looks to have overcome the worst in terms of daily infections and deaths from the coronavirus, but recent hopes of a peak elsewhere in Europe have been dashed in recent days.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday that the national lockdown in Italy, in place since March 9, could only be eased gradually.

"We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month," he told the BBC.

Italy has seen its daily death toll come down dramatically from a peak of 919 deaths on March 27; on Wednesday, it recorded 542 deaths, Italy's Civil Protection Agency noted.

But although the daily figures might be falling in Italy, the coronavirus continues to take its toll. To date, 17,699 people have died from the virus in the country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and Prime Minister Conte noted that "behind the numbers are names and surnames, life stories and broken families. The Italian nation is suffering."

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy now stands at 139,422 (this includes those that have died and recovered) although the true number could be far higher. Nevertheless, Italy's testing regime, like Germany's, is seen as much more robust than other countries, for example the U.K.'s, which is still struggling to implement mass testing. 

Conte, who has been pushing (along with other European nations, mainly in the south) for Europe to issue joint bonds as a way to help restart the region's economy, said once again that the European project risked failing if leaders didn't act. 

"If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real," he said. There is resistance from Germany and the Netherlands over the issuing of joint debt, or "corona bonds," however.

Mixed picture

While Italy may have passed the peak of the outbreak, the pandemic's status in the rest of Europe is more difficult to define following an uptick in fatalities or new cases in some countries.

The picture in Spain, which has overtaken Italy in terms of the number of cases (now at 148,220, data from Johns Hopkins University shows) is one such case, with the rate of new cases and fatalities increasing after several days of recent declines.

The number of daily coronavirus deaths rose in Spain for the second day on Wednesday, with 757 deaths recorded, the health ministry said; up from 743 on Tuesday. The country has registered a total of 14,792 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

France extends lockdown

Meanwhile, in France, the presidential palace said Wednesday that the national lockdown will run beyond April 15 with President Emmanuel Macron set to address the nation next Monday evening. Ahead of the address, Macron will "speak to a large number of public and private actors – French, European and international – on what is at stake concerning COVID-19", the presidency said, France 24 reported.

Most western European governments have said that it is too early to put a date on plans to lift lockdown measures but others are have  cautiously announced plans to lift coronavirus lockdown measures over the coming days. Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway have now all announced plans to slowly relax national lockdowns later this month. 

France's death toll rose to 10,869 on Wednesday after hospitals recorded 541 new fatalities, France's Health Ministry said. The total number of cases in France stands at 83,080, Johns Hopkins University data shows.

In Germany, the death toll rose by 246 to 2,107 over the past 24 hours, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases noted Thursday morning. The total number of confirmed cases rose by 4,974, to a total number of 108,202 cases — climbing for the third straight day after four previous days of declines.

Number of UK deaths spike

Meanwhile, the U.K. reported on Wednesday its largest daily rise in deaths so far — 938 fatalities — increasing the overall death toll to 7,097 people. The country has a total of 61,474 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in an intensive care unit (ICU) in a London hospital after being admitted to hospital due to persistent coronavirus symptoms. It was announced he had tested positive for the virus on March 27.

"The latest from the hospital is that the prime minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving," Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said at the government's daily press briefing Wednesday.

"I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and engaging positively with the clinical team."

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