It’s still very early and the raw numbers have not changed all that much — but the extreme suppression methods taken in Italy might be starting to pay dividends. For the first time since the outbreak has started, the number of new cases has decreased two days in a row.
*EDIT: After this article was published, Italy published new figures for 24.03.2020. There are more new cases than on Monday (23.03.2020) but the number of new cases is still below the apex.
Cautious optimism was the word in Lombardy, Italy’s hardest-hit area. An embattled Giulio Gallera, the top health official in Italy’s northern region, addressed local reports with caution:
“Today is perhaps the first positive day we have had in this hard, very tough month. It is not the time to sing victory, but we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Less than two days after Italy’s Patient No. 1 was released from hospital and a month after he came in in critically ill condition, the number of new cases is dropping. It’s encouraging, but it’s still too early to tell.
Health officials also note that there was a significant fall in the number of tests carried out. Silvio Brusaferro, the head of Italy‘s national health institute, said it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about a potential decline.
It’s also still early in the decline to draw any definite conclusions.
But nevertheless, there is a case for cautious optimism.
It’s exactly when you’d expect the effects to kick in: the Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown on 10 March, two weeks ago. The measures stopped people from going outside other than performing essential tasks, but the measures are also expected to prevent the disease from continuing to spread. It’s a scenario we’ve seen happen in Wuhan, and it is plausible that a similar trend might be observed in Italy.
The number of cases is far from flatlining in Italy, however. Even if the number of new cases starts to drop, it will be a while before the overall number of cases also starts to drop. Even then, it will be a while before hospitals can work at capacity and save as many lives as possible, and even after the cases hopefully do flatline, there is still the long-term issue of dealing with the disease, as quarantine can’t be maintained forever.
It’s the first glimmer of hope in weeks, and it’s a frail one at that. But it’s a breath of air, one that Italy desperately needed. This whole endeavor promises to be a lengthy marathon, but even a marathon starts with a step.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.