Europe's slowing coronavirus deaths bolster leaders on lockdowns

Archbishop of Prague Cardinal Dominik Duka (centre) stands during performance of the Castle Guard Band on April 5, 2020.
Archbishop of Prague Cardinal Dominik Duka (centre) stands during performance of the Castle Guard Band on April 5, 2020. PHOTO: EPA - EFE

ROME (BLOOMBERG) - Europe's four worst-hit countries reported declines in the pace of coronavirus deaths, and an Italian health official said his country's outbreak may be cresting.

Latest data from Spain, Italy, France and the UK suggested the containment measures that have idled millions of workers are having an effect, prompting political leaders to extend or tighten them to further stem the pandemic.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalised as a precaution after failing to shake off the virus and its symptoms for 10 days.

With the number of confirmed infections worldwide approaching 1.3 million, Italy and Spain have the biggest death tolls. That means officials have to weigh any attempts to restart parts of the economy against the risk of reigniting the spread of the virus and worsening the human toll.

"It's the lockdown measures that are helping us," Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy's public health institute, said in Rome on Sunday (April 5). They have led to a "significant slowdown in the spread" of the virus, he said.

Italy reported 525 new deaths on Sunday, the lowest daily number in 2 1/2 weeks, Spain's toll declined for a third straight day and the UK's was lower than the previous day's. France reported an additional 518 deaths, the fewest since last Tuesday.

Deaths linked to the coronavirus reached almost 16,000 in Italy, more than 12,000 in Spain, 8,000 in France and some 4,900 in the UK. Italy has counted 128,948 infections, slightly fewer than Spain.

While his office said Mr Johnson remains in charge of the government, the prime minister's hospitalisation is likely to raise renewed questions about the UK's crisis response.

The government will tighten a nationwide lockdown if needed to halt the spread of virus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday, as officials face demands to say how they will eventually lift restrictions.

Italy is heading into its fifth week under lockdown and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday he can't say when it'll be lifted. Opposition leader Matteo Salvini called on the government to open churches for the Easter holiday.

Italy's measures have been extended through at least April 13 and Spain's are now running in force at least until April 25. Conte is expected to announce revised rules and timelines by the end of next week, Il Messaggero newspaper reported.

Amid a global competition for scarce medical supplies, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet will approve a plan on Monday for the mass production of face masks. The government "will provide guarantees so manufacturers know that they will get their money," he said on ARD television.

QUEEN'S SPEECH

Queen Elizabeth II sought to lift her country's spirits in a rare televised address, urging Britons to adopt the discipline and resolve that the UK showed during World War II.

"I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge," the 93-year-old monarch said on Sunday. "And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any."

Scotland's chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, said she'll resign after flouting UK lockdown guidelines to make a trip away from Edinburgh to her second residence.

Some EU leaders are actively looking beyond lockdowns.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz plans to present a detailed roadmap on Monday for eventually lifting restrictions, which include school and store closings and mandatory face masks. His country's number of active coronavirus patients dropped for the first time over the weekend as recoveries outnumbered new positive tests on both days.

EURO-AREA AID

Conte renewed his call for joint euro-area debt issuance that's also backed by Spain.

"As the Italian government, I invite all its European partners to approve a European recovery and reinvestment plan," he said on NBC. "It's an ambitious common plan to rebuild the European economy to be financed through European recovery bonds."