Italy reported the lowest daily COVID-19 number in more than two weeks on Sunday when the authorities started a second phase of the fight against the new coronavirus after the blockage that had been imposed almost a month ago was finally relaxed.
The death toll from the world's deadliest outbreak reached 15,887, nearly a quarter of the world's deaths. However, the 525 increase from the previous day was the smallest daily increase since March 19, while the number of patients in severely stretched intensive care units decreased for a second day in a row.
"The curve has reached a plateau and is starting to descend," said Silvio Brusaferro, head of Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy's leading health institute. "It is a result that we have to achieve every day."
"If this is confirmed, we need to think about the second phase and curb the spread of this disease."
The total number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus rose by 4,316 to 128,948, the lowest increase in five days, contributing to the signs that the epidemic reached a plateau about six weeks after its outbreak in northern Italy on February 21.
Sunday's numbers added to growing signs that the strict restrictions on movement and public gatherings imposed across the country on March 9, contained the epidemic, but officials were desperate to avoid a slowdown.
"Don't lower our watch, stay home," Angelo Borelli, head of the civil protection department, said at a daily meeting.
In addition to the public health crisis, the government is also struggling with the economic devastation caused by the sudden cessation of business across the country.
After several days of encouraging data, Health Minister Roberto Speranza outlined a number of measures, including further testing and an improved local health system, to allow for gradual easing until a vaccine could be developed.
"There are difficult months ahead. Our job is to create the conditions for living with the virus," he told La Repubblica, at least until a vaccine is developed.
The national ban, which strictly restricts people's movements and freezes all non-essential economic activities, will officially last until at least April 13, but is generally expected to be extended. Speranza said it was too early to say when it could be canceled.
The minister said he had issued a note outlining five principles by which the government wanted to deal with the so-called "phase two" of the emergency, when the restrictions were relaxed, but before normal conditions were fully restored.
He said that social detachment should continue if single protective devices such as face masks were used on a larger scale while local health systems were strengthened to enable suspected cases of COVID-19 to be dealt with more quickly and efficiently.
Testing and "contact tracking" would be expanded, including the use of smartphone apps and other forms of digital technology, while establishing a network of hospitals dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)