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Italy passes 'terrible threshold' of 100,000 coronavirus deaths

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3/9/2021 Angela Giuffrida in Rome
a person standing next to a building: Photograph: Emanuela Bianconi/Rex/Shutterstock © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Emanuela Bianconi/Rex/Shutterstock

Italy has recorded 100,000 coronavirus deaths, a year after it became the first western country to impose a total lockdown and as it braces for a third wave of the pandemic.

Among those who have died in recent days are Monique Forciniti, a 55-year-old school cook from Pistoia in Tuscany and Stefano Limongi, the 34-year-old owner of a sushi bar in Rome.

Italy’s recently appointed prime minister, Mario Draghi, said that passing the “terrible threshold” of 100,000 deaths was something “we would never have imagined a year ago”.

On 9 March 2020, his predecessor, Giuseppe Conte, imposed unprecedented national restrictions as the pandemic took hold. At the time, Italy had registered 463 Covid-19 deaths and 9,172 infections.

One year on, the number of deaths on Monday rose to 100,103 – the highest in Europe after the UK – while the total number of infections since the onset of the pandemic last week eclipsed 3 million.

“A year ago, this was something that none of us doctors had ever experienced and of course, we hoped and imagined, like everyone else, that it would end quickly,” said Saverio Chiaravalle, the vice-president of the doctors’ order in the Lombardy province of Varese and a close friend of Roberto Stella, the president of the order who was the first medic in Italy to die from the virus.

a person standing on a sidewalk: Police officers at a Covid vaccination centre in Perugia last month. Hardly touched during the first wave, the city in Umbria has become a virus hotspot. © Photograph: Emanuela Bianconi/Rex/Shutterstock Police officers at a Covid vaccination centre in Perugia last month. Hardly touched during the first wave, the city in Umbria has become a virus hotspot.

“I miss Roberto a lot,” he said. “There is all the debate about whether people died of Covid-19 or with Covid-19, but at the end of the day, they died because they become infected with it.”


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Italy is grappling with rapidly spreading coronavirus variants, especially the UK variant, which makes up more than 50% of new infections. Lombardy remains the hardest-hit region, with hospitals in certain areas, especially the province of Brescia, becoming overwhelmed again. Other areas of the country that were hardly touched during the first wave, such as Perugia in Umbria, have become virus hotspots.

In the week between 24 February and 2 March, the number of new infections rose by a third to more than 123,000 – the highest since early December.

Hospital admissions have been rising nationally, with 21,831 people being treated for Covid-19 in general wards and 2,700 in intensive care.

Italy emerged from the tough lockdown of last spring in early May, but since a resurgence of infections in the autumn has been trying to avoid another generalised lockdown by using a colour-tiered system of restrictions across the country’s 20 regions depending on the severity of the virus’s spread and capacity of hospitals to cope.

Stricter restrictions, which could place all or half of the country in the toughest “red zone” category, are expected to be announced if the daily number of infections surpasses 30,000 by Friday.

Luigi Di Maio, the foreign minister, wrote on Facebook on Monday that with the current data, “there is no alternative to stricter measures”. In a poll by Corriere della Sera at the weekend, 44% of Italians said they would support another tough lockdown, up from 30% two weeks before.

The lockdown period could also be used to help speed up the vaccination programme, which since January has been hampered by delivery delays but also the change in government.

Draghi, who last week blocked the export from Italy to Australia of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said on Monday the programme would be “decisively strengthened” in the next few days.

Chiaravalle said there had been a significant drop in the number of medical workers dying or becoming infected with coronavirus since vaccinations began in late December.

However, with the general population fatigued after a year of the pandemic, people have become less afraid of the stubbornly high daily death rate.

“There was really a terror a year ago,” added Chiaravalle. “It’s not that they should be terrified. However, there needs to be the right among of fear to ensure people continue to stick to the rules.”

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