ROME — Italy’s parliament on Thursday designated March 18 as National Day in Memory of COVID-19 victims, and the government approved the borrowing of 25 billion euros to prop up the country’s economy as it struggles to recover from the pandemic.
“March 18 will be an important day… in order to remember all the people who are no longer with us,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza wrote on Facebook in reference to the day that 2,978 COVID-19 patients died in Italy — the highest daily death toll in the country since the pandemic emerged in late February.
At over 35,000 fatalities so far, Italy is among the four European countries that have paid the highest price in terms of human lives to the pandemic, after the UK (45,501 dead) and ahead of France (30,172) and Spain (28,426), according to the latest data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
On Thursday, 10 COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours, bringing the national death toll to 35,092, according to the Ministry of Health. Meanwhile, 214 patients have recovered, bringing the total to 197,842 recoveries.
“SMALL CHAINS OF TRANSMISSION” STILL OCCURRING
The Ministry of Health cautioned in its latest COVID-19 weekly monitoring report, which was released on Tuesday, that “at the national level, a slight increase in the number of newly diagnosed cases… was observed in the week of July 6-12 with respect to the previous week.”
“In addition to outbreaks attributable to the importation of infection, some small chains of transmission of unknown origin continue to be reported on the national territory,” the report said.
“In some regions, the presence of new cases of infection imported from other regions or foreign states was highlighted,” it added.
One of the latest small chains of transmission has occurred on the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples, a popular holiday destination for Italians and foreigners alike, where three tourists from Rome have tested positive for the virus, local health authorities said on Facebook on Thursday.
The three tourists were part of a group of eight friends who stayed in a holiday home in Capri over the weekend.
“There is no cause for alarm at the moment,” the local health authorities wrote, adding that in a separate incident, “two tourists who arrived in Capri from Dubai” on a flight where “other positive individuals were present” have tested negative for the virus “and remain quarantined as per current regulations.”
“We are not surprised to find cases on Capri,” Naples Local Health Authority Director-General Ciro Verdoliva said in the statement on Facebook. “This is why individual behaviors are crucial. The issue is not to have zero cases, but to isolate them right away and prevent them from multiplying.”
CABINET OKS 25 BLN-EURO BORROWING FOR RECOVERY
During a cabinet meeting that began late on Wednesday night and concluded early on Thursday, the government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte approved borrowing 25 billion euros to help fund the COVID-19 recovery.
This will push public debt to 157.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, the government made known in a press release on Thursday, outstripping a Bank of Italy forecast on July 9 that national debt would soar to 155.7 percent of GDP in 2020 due to the pandemic.
For comparison, Italy’s public debt stood at 116.6 percent of GDP in 2009, at 135.4 percent in 2014, and at 134.8 percent of GDP in 2019, before the pandemic and the ensuing national lockdown forced the economy to a halt.
“The government believes it is crucial to continue to ensure support to the production system and to citizens’ income, to support the recovery and to intervene where needed to preserve jobs,” said the government.
Also on Thursday, Italy’s National Pensions and Welfare Institute (INPS) said that new job hires in the private sector dropped by 39 percent in the first four months of the year compared to the same period of 2019.
“The contraction was very sharp,” INPS said in a statement. “And it was particularly significant in April and even worse than in March due to the emergency this year linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.”