Coronavirus: Italy posts lowest daily coronavirus death toll in over two weeks

Health workers applaud as people react from their houses in support of the medical staff that are working on the COVID-19 virus outbreak at the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Italy has recorded its lowest daily coronavirus death toll in over two weeks, providing more glimmers of hope for the country.

Another 525 deaths have been reported, taking the total to 15,887.

That is the lowest 24-hour tally since the middle of last month, while the number of patients in intensive care has also dropped for the second day running.

The latest jump in confirmed cases - from 124,632 to 128,984 - is also down on the day before, which has further heightened hopes that the epidemic may have finally plateaued.

Italy remains one of the hardest-hit countries in the world and has more coronavirus fatalities than any other nation; however, there have been signs that the lockdown enforced on 9 March may be having an impact.

Of those originally infected across the country, 21,815 were declared recovered on Sunday - up more than 1,000.

There were 3,977 people in intensive care, a fall of 17 from 3,994 on Friday, when officials reported the first drop in intensive care numbers since COVID-19 first emerged in northern Italy back in February.

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Despite room for some optimism, officials are urging people not to become complacent.

The ravaged Lombardy region is now requiring residents to wear a protective mask when they go outside after similar orders were ordered in two other northern regions.

Veneto and Alto Adige require protective masks for residents if they go shopping in stores and markets.

And while the nationwide lockdown remains in force, Lombardy has also passed particularly tight restrictions on movement and business operations.

It comes amid a growing appreciation that the official death toll may be masking the true number dying, with people dying at home without their symptoms being checked and medics unable to visit them before they pass away.

In Bergamo province, Sky News recently witnessed horrific scenes in the main hospital and its mayor told chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay he was convinced the death toll was higher than that being reported.

According to a recent study of death records in Bergamo, the true death count there could be more than double the official tally of 2,060, which only tracks hospital fatalities.

But purely based on hospital numbers, Sunday brought signs that the pandemic was slowing in Europe's other most badly affected countries.

The rate of infections and deaths went down again in Spain, as it prepares to enter its fourth week of lockdown.

Fatalities rose to 12,418, the second highest worldwide total after Italy, but the latest increase of 674 people who died during the past 24 hours was down from Saturday's 809 and well below Thursday's daily record of 950.

The total number of infections rose to 130,759 from 124,736.

Health minster Salvador Illa said: "The data from this week and today confirms the slowing down of infections.

"The data confirms that confinement is working."

Sky News correspondent Alex Rossi, in Madrid, said there is "muted optimism" as a result of the figures - but the government has no plans to ease its lockdown just yet.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the nation on Saturday "we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel"; however, he said he would ask parliament to extend his lockdown by 15 days until 26 April.

France reported a decrease in the number of deaths of coronavirus patients in its hospitals in Sunday.

There were 441 new deaths - less than the high of 588 reported on Friday - for a total hospital death tally of 5,532.

However, the overall number of deaths was up as the government included more previously unreported deaths from nursing homes across the country - some dating back to the start of March.

This added another 2,028 deaths to the national tally for a total death toll of 7,560, an increase of 1,053 on the cumulative figure reported on Friday.

To help cope, Europe's biggest food market in Rungis, south of Paris, is being transformed into a morgue.

France's high-speed train network has also been transporting critically ill coronavirus patients to hospitals under less strain outside the capital.

Nearly 7,000 patients are in intensive care in France, pushing hospitals to their limit and beyond.