In Depth

Coronavirus: Italy and Spain see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

Officials express cautious optimism as death tolls fall in both nations

Italy and Spain yesterday reported their lowest coronavirus death tolls for weeks, raising hopes that the worst may be over in two of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic.

Celebrating the news, US President Donald Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing that the world is “starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel”. But could such optimism be premature?

What’s happening in Italy?

Since the Covid-19 coronavirus first arrived in Europe in late January, Italy has recorded more coronavirus fatalities than any other country in the world, despite a strict nationwide lockdown introduced on 9 March.

As of Monday morning, Italy’s total death toll from the virus stood at 15,887, according to real-time statistics website Worldometer.

However, the Mediterranean nation has seen its number of critical care patients decline for the second day in a row, edging down to 3,977.

And the latest confirmed daily death toll is 525 - the lowest since 19 March, when 427 were registered.

Italy also saw its first decline in the number of non-critical patients receiving hospital care over the weekend, falling from 29,010 on Saturday to 28,949 on Sunday.

And in Spain?

With a total of 135,032 confirmed cases as of Monday morning, Spain is now “second in the number of infections only to the US, which has a population some seven times larger”, says Reuters.

The total death toll in Spain stands at 13,055, second only to that in Italy.

But Friday marked the first time in more than a week that the number of deaths reported by Madrid fell from the previous day - and was followed by two more consecutive days of declines. 

A total of 674 Covid-19-related deaths were reported on Sunday, down from 809 on Saturday - and well below the daily record of 950 confirmed on Thursday.

This decline is “offering some hope that the outbreak may be moving toward a peak”, reports Bloomberg, with Health Minister Salvador Illa claiming on Friday that the goal of slowing the epidemic was “within reach”.

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Is this really the light at the end of the tunnel?

According to officials in Italy and Spain, the latest figures are reason for highly cautious optimism.

Speaking to NBC News on Sunday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “Our response has not been perfect, maybe, but we have been acting [to] the best of our knowledge.

“Today, I see that our model is implemented by other countries and its validity has been acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the results so far indicate that we are on the right path.”

However, Paris-based news agency AFP reports that Angelo Borrelli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, has said that “this is good news but we should not let our guard down” - indicating that Italy’s lockdown is to continue beyond the current review date of 13 April.

In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has also warned that the battle to curb the spread of the virus must continue. 

In a televised address on Saturday, Sanchez described the pandemic as “the greatest crisis of our lives” and said that he would be asking parliament to extend his nationwide lockdown by 15 days until 26 April.

The Spanish government’s handling of the outbreak was applauded yesterday by Hans Kluge, WHO’s director for Europe, who tweeted: “Careful optimism as a result of bold measures, innovative approaches and courageous decisions.”

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