ROME (BLOOMBERG) - Italy on Wednesday (Oct 14) reported a record number of new coronavirus cases, as the spread of the contagion surpassed levels reached at the peak of last spring's outbreak.
New cases jumped to 7,332, higher than the 6,557 infections at the peak of the pandemic on March 21. The spike at least partly reflects more thorough screening. Daily tests totalled 152,196, almost 10 times the March daily average of 15,752.
The resurgence in Italy, Europe's original epicentre for the virus, has so far been less severe than in neighboring France or in Spain, but the outbreak has been accelerating in recent days. Experts have cited the intensity and duration of the spring lockdown in Italy and the country's relatively late fall school reopening to explain the discrepancy.
But with hospitalisations on the rise again - notably in southern regions that were largely spared from the initial outbreak - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government last week re-imposed the mandatory use of masks outdoors and this week added new curbs on nightlife, social events and amateur sports.
The number of patients in intensive care units rose by 25 on Wednesday to 539. That compares with 337 a week ago, but still a fraction of the early April peak of more than 4,000. Daily deaths rose to 43 from 41 on Tuesday.
Conte has repeatedly ruled out fully shutting the country down again, after a three-month lockdown in the spring brought Italy's already fragile economy to its knees. Some experts have cast doubts on whether a new lockdown can be avoided if the pace of new infections does not slow down.
"A lockdown during Christmas would be a natural turn of events," University of Padua virologist Andrea Crisanti said on Rai state television. "We need to focus on tracking and stopping the virus rather than people's behaviour. I wouldn't want us to be talking about 10,000- 12,000 cases a day in 15 days."