Italy’s epidemic should stabilise soon, but vigilance needed – WHO

A medical worker in a protective suit stands by an ambulance in the emergency room of the Gemelli Hospital, where coronavirus patients are looked after, in Rome
A medical worker in a protective suit stands by an ambulance in the emergency room of the Gemelli Hospital, where coronavirus patients are looked after, in Rome, Italy, March 16, 2020. Policlinico Gemelli/Handout via REUTERS

Lockdowns and stringent measures in place in Italy for the past two weeks should lead soon to a stabilisation in its coronavirus epidemic, but vigilant follow-up will be required, a senior official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Italy has registered more deaths than anywhere else in the world and accounts for more than a third of all global fatalities from the virus.

In Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus emerged in December and which is now reopening after two months of lockdown, authorities have maintained physical distancing measures and continue to search for cases, Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, said.

“What we are likely to see, if you imagine the lockdown and stringent measures in Italy are now in place 2-3 weeks … we should start to see stabilisation because the cases we see today really reflect exposures two weeks ago,” he told journalists at a virtual briefing in Geneva.

The death toll from the outbreak of coronavirus in Italy climbed by 812 to 11,591, the Civil Protection Agency said on Monday, reversing two days of declines in the daily rate.

However, the number of new cases rose by just 4,050, the lowest amount since March 17, hitting a total 101,739 from a previous 97,689.

Spain overtook China in the number of those infected with coronavirus on Monday, as the government tightened restrictions on a population entering its third week under one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. But the daily increase in infections began to slow.

“So we do hope that Italy and Spain are nearly there on that … And going down (on case numbers) isn’t just about a lockdown and let go,” Ryan said.

Regarding the use of masks by the public – amid a global shortage of supplies for health care workers – Ryan said: “In general WHO recommends that the wearing of a mask by a member of the public is to prevent that individual giving the disease to somebody else.

“We don’t generally recommend wearing of masks in public by otherwise well individuals because it has not been up to now associated with any particular benefit.”

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