By Francesca Landini and Elvira Pollina
MILAN (Reuters) – Lombardy, the northern Italian region that has suffered the biggest hit from Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, is showing the first signs of a possible slowdown in contagion, its governor said on Monday.
The heavily populated region that includes Italy’s financial capital Milan has seen 1,218 deaths. Of those, 252 were recorded in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday, the largest toll so far.
In the whole of Italy there were 368 new deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak on Sunday, easily the biggest daily toll recorded in any country, including China.
But despite the surge in deaths, Governor Attilio Fontana said he saw some reason for optimism in the data, as new cases appeared to be rising less quickly than a few days earlier.
“I have not seen today’s statistics yet, but… we can see some small steps forward,” he told Radio 1.
“The increase (in coronavirus cases) is not a sharp rise as it was two, three days ago. Let’s hope it is the start of a trend reversal – I am saying it in a whisper – this could be the start of a trend reversal,” he said on the program Centocittà.
New cases showed a rise of 13.5% in Lombardy on Sunday compared with Saturday. Monday’s statistics will be published later in the day.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told daily Corriere della Sera that the outbreak was still getting worse across Italy.
“Scientists are telling us that the outbreak has not reached it peak, these weeks will be the most risky,” Conte said.
Fontana said he believed that a change in the contagion trend would be seen in the next few days following strict rules curbing people’s movements imposed from March 8.
Lombardy is the region where the first cluster of coronavirus cases emerged on Feb. 20 in a small town some 60 km (40 miles) from Milan. Another cluster emerged in Vo Euganeo, a hamlet in the neighboring Veneto region.
Veneto Governor Luca Zaia has said his region will launch large-scale testing this week after screening in Vo Euganeo revealed that people without symptoms accounted for more than half of all the positive cases discovered in the small town.
Zaia on Monday asked the government to allow him to impose even stricter measures such as closing even essential shops on Sunday and banning people from taking a walk.
Lombardy has ruled out such mass tests. “With current resources, it does not make sense to speak about mass screening in an area with 10 million inhabitants,” Fontana told RaiNews 24 TV channel.
He added that it would require “years” to test everyone since it takes 8-9 hours to get a result.
(Additional reporting by Giulia Segreti and Riccardo Bastianello, editing by Gavin Jones, Crispian Balmer and Hugh Lawson)