Though the deadly coronavirus continues to spread by the thousands daily in the hardest hit European countries, there were indications Sunday that infection rates and deaths were beginning to ease in some places. However, the UK death toll passed 10,000 amid fears it could become the worst hit country in Europe.
Italy, the country with the highest death toll in Europe, had its lowest number of new deaths in three weeks, saying 431 people died in the past day to bring its total to 19,899.
It was the lowest day-to-day toll since March 19.
For the ninth day running, intensive care admissions were down and hospitalizations overall were down, relieving pressure on Italy’s over-stressed health care system.
More than 4,000 people tested positive as Italy began its fifth week under nationwide lockdown, continuing a general flattening in its infection curve.
But officials have noted that Italy has also increased its testing capacity in recent days, yielding more positive cases but allowing for more effective quarantine measures for people once they know they are infected.
Italy crossed the 1 million virus test mark on Sunday, doubling the number of tests since the end of March.
Overall, 156,363 people have been confirmed as positive, though officials note that the true number of infected could be as much as 10 times that, particularly in hard-hit Lombardy.
Officials have also warned that the true number of dead from the virus pandemic is higher, given the hundreds of elderly who have died in nursing homes but were never tested.
Spain, with the second grimmest count in Europe, reported its lowest daily growth in confirmed coronavirus infections in three weeks as it prepared to loosen its strict lockdown measures and let some workers return to the job.
Spanish health authorities reported 4,167 confirmed new cases over the previous 24 hours. The country’s total is at 166,019, second only to the United States.
Deaths in Spain have reached a total of 16,972, with 619 new fatalities confirmed since Saturday. More than 60,000 patients have recovered from COVID-19 in Spain.
The country on Monday will allow workers in industry and construction to return to work after a two-week shutdown of economic activities other than health care and the food industry.
Those who can work from home were strongly encouraged by authorities to continue doing so. Retail shops will remain closed other than supermarkets, fruit stands, bakeries, butchers, newsstands and pharmacies.
In France, the overall death toll rose to nearly 14,400, but for the fourth day in a row, slightly fewer people were admitted into intensive care — 35 fewer — giving health officials a reason to grasp for good news.
Sunday’s statistics issued by the Health Ministry confirm the country is reaching a “very high plateau” and reflect initial signs that nearly four weeks of confinement and the “drastic reduction in contacts” are producing an effect, a statement said.
Of the 31,836 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19, more than 1,600 were admitted in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said. There were 315 deaths since the day before, compared to 345 in the 24 hours before that.
Since March 1, hospitals and nursing homes have counted 14,393 deaths.
Strict confinement measures begun March 17, were renewed once and are expected to be extended again, with a likely announcement to the nation Monday by President Emmanuel Macron.
Since the start of the epidemic in France, more than 95,400 people have been infected.
UK health officials said Sunday 657 more people in England have died from the new coronavirus, raising the total UK deaths to over 10,000.
The National Health Service figure did not include deaths in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland which were to be released later.
The 657 deaths come on top of the 9,875 deaths of people with COVID-19 in British hospitals announced Saturday.
While the number of new cases and hospitalizations appears to have plateaued, deaths are still rising. As virus death tolls in Italy and Spain have been on a downward slope there are growing fears that the UK will end up being the country with the most virus deaths in Europe.
The UK figures came as the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from hospital after being felled by the disease and requiring treatment in an intensive care unit.
Overall, the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, has killed more than 113,290 people around the world since it began to spread in China at the end of December.