Italy health official says nation hits ‘plateau’

Dr. Silvio Brusaferro says the country should start to see a decline in new cases in the epicenter of Europe’s pandemic.

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An employee wearing protective gear, working for environmental services company AMSA, sprays disinfectant on Piazza Duomo in Milan, on March 31, 2020 during the country’s lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus.

Photo by PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP via Getty Images

ROME — The head of Italy’s national institutes of health says the country has hit the “plateau” in its coronavirus infection rate, three weeks into a national lockdown, and should start to see a decline in new cases.

Dr. Silvio Brusaferro stressed Tuesday that it would be folly to relax Italy’s productivity shutdown and stay-at-home restrictions now, even though the rate of new virus infections is slowing.

But he said, “The curve suggests we are at the plateau. We have to confirm it, because arriving at the plateau doesn’t mean we have conquered the peak and we’re done. It means now we should start to see the decline if we continue to place maximum attention on what we do every day.”

The daily numbers released by Italy’s civil protection agency confirmed the trend, showing another 4,053 infections — in line with a leveling off in recent days — to bring Italy’s total confirmed cases to 105,792. Another 837 people died, bringing Italy’s toll to 12,428, the highest in the world.

Brusaferro confirmed that Italy’s R0, the average number of people who will get infected from one contagious person, is nearing one, down from estimates as high as two or three. Officials are aiming to get the R0 under one to rein in the epidemic.

In the absence of a virus vaccine that would bring that rate closer to zero, Brusaferro said governments around the world will have to come up with a mixture of measures to keep the infection curve down while gradually allowing some activity to restart.

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