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Health

Italy coronavirus cases surge to new daily record above 7,000

ROME (Reuters) - Italy has registered 7,332 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Wednesday, the country’s highest ever daily tally and steeply up from 5,901 on Tuesday.

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There were also 43 COVID-related deaths on Wednesday against 41 the day before -- far fewer than at the height of the pandemic in Italy in March and April when a daily peak of more than 900 deaths was reached.

Before Wednesday, the highest daily tally of new cases had been reported on March 21, in the middle of a nationwide lockdown, with 6,557 cases. On that same day 793 people died.

Although Italy’s daily deaths remain relatively low, the number of people in intensive care with the virus has risen steadily. They stood at 539 on Wednesday, up from 514 the day before and compared with a low of around 40 in the second half of July.

Italy was the first country in Europe to be slammed by COVID-19 and has the second-highest death toll in the continent, with 36,289 fatalities since the outbreak flared in February, according to official figures.

Thanks to one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, the government managed to get the contagion under control by the summer.

But infections have soared in the last few weeks and the government on Tuesday imposed new restrictions on gatherings, restaurants, sports and school activities.

Nonetheless, Italy is still recording significantly fewer daily cases than France, Spain and Britain.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday he was determined to avoid a new general lockdown just as the economy was recovering from the last one.

However, some of the country’s most prominent scientists say closing down the country again may be the only way to stop infections continuing to spiral.

“I think a lockdown at Christmas is realistic, it would allow us to adjust the system, lower virus transmission and increase contact tracing,” Andrea Crisanti, microbiology professor at Padua University, told state broadcaster RAI.

Patrizio Pezzotti, an epidemiologist at Italy’s Superior Health Institute, said in an interview with daily La Stampa that he expected 100 COVID-related deaths per day within a couple of weeks.

Italian authorities have been trying to raise testing capacity amid complaints of long queues at centres, and Wednesday saw a new record for tests conducted over a 24 hour period, at 152,196.

Additional reporting and editing by Crispian Balmer

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