Italy’s health ministry on Thursday reported 184,615 more confirmed coronavirus infections in the country within the past 24 hours, down from 196,224 on Wednesday.
While still high, many are wondering if these falling numbers are a sign that the worst is over after case numbers soared at the end of 2021 and have since remained around 200,000 daily.
The number of positive cases in Italy is “expected to peak in 5-10 days”, mathematician Giovanni Sebastiani told national broadcaster Rai on Friday.
As in previous waves, some parts of the country will get there sooner than others, he said.
The latest weekly health data from regional authorities “confirm that Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Lombardy are almost at the peak”.
But some experts warn that the infection rate is likely to rise further before the current wave peaks, even if case numbers are now rising more gradually.
“The forecast is that daily cases will approach 300,000,” physicist Giorgio Sestili told the Ansa news agency, though he noted that “compared to last week there is a slowdown, we’re not observing the dizzying growth that took place between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022.”
This slowdown “could indicate that we are not far from the peak”, he said. “It’s difficult to predict, because we don’t know if there are variables that could come into play and that we are not considering”.
He pointed out that just before Christmas “a similar trend was observed and it was assumed that the peak would come at 30,000 cases”.
But case numbers then soared in the following days, with infections fuelled by the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The weekly rise in the infection rate at that time was up to 140 percent, while in recent days the growth has been between 30-50 percent, he said.
Roberto Battiston, professor of Physics at the University of Trento, told newspaper La Repubblica on Friday that the peak of infections in Italy could come next week.
“The boom in infections that started just before Christmas could reach its maximum within a week and then drop,” he said.
He stressed that a peak in the infection rate however does not mean the health emergency is over.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic, the numbers are and will remain high for a while.”
“We’re at risk of having more than 2.5 million infected Italians in quarantine. And a very small percentage of serious cases is enough to send intensive care and hospitals in general into havoc.”
Some experts point out that the reopening of schools this week and the return to workplaces after the Christmas holidays, which lasted until at least January 6th for many people in Italy, could reverse the slowdown and lead to another rise in infections.
“Sales shopping and the reopening of schools could change things by significantly increasing the number of contacts between people, especially among the youngest, who are currently the most affected,” Giovanni Sebastiani from Italy’s National Research Council said in an interview with Ansa.
“The incidence of Covid in under-20s is three times higher than that in people aged 20 and over,” he noted.
He said the reopening of schools should have been delayed by “about a month” and parents encouraged to work from home to reduce the impact on the epidemic curve.
Italy’s seven-day Covid-19 incidence rate rose overall in the week of January 7-13 according to the latest weekly report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) and the health ministry on Friday.
At the national level, Italy’s seven-day Covid-19 incidence rate rose overall in the week of January 7-13. The rate is now 1,988 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, up from 1,699 the week before.
Hospitalisation and intensive care occupancy rates also continue to rise gradually, the report said, with the proportion of ICU beds filled by Covid-19 patients had risen again from 15.4 to 17.5 percent.
The percentage of other hospital beds occupied by Covid patients climbed from 21.6 to 27.1.
The Omicron strain accounted for 81 percent of Covid-19 cases detected in Italy as of January 3rd, according to ISS data, with regional variations of between 33 and 100 percent of cases.
The older Delta variant accounted for the remaining 19 percent, the ISS said.
The latest health ministry data this week also showed that several Italian regions are likely to be classifed as higher-risk ‘orange’ zones from Monday the health situation continues to worsen.
The regions of Piedmont, Calabria, Liguria and Sicily have all neared or exceeded the thresholds for tighter health restrictions, though the health ministy has not yet confirmed which areas will be first to be declared ‘orange’ zones.
A region can be declared an orange zone if it records a Covid incidence rate of 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, combined with 20 percent ICU and 30 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy.
If regions become orange zones, little will change for vaccinated people; most venues and activities will remain open and accessible to those with Italy’s ‘super green pass’ health certificate that shows the bearer is vaccinated against or recovered from Covid.
As of January 10th, the vaccine pass is required to access all public transport and most leisure venues across the country, including hotels and restaurants.
Italy is relying on the pass system to keep businesses open, and has made vaccination mandatory for over-50s and some employees in efforts to prevent serious cases of Covid-19 from overwhelming hospitals.
Italy’s vaccination rate has also risen this week, with a record of almost 700,000 jabs administered on Tuesday – most of these booster shots.
Some health experts predicted this week that Italy may be “out of the pandemic” in spring as the country is expected to reach 95 percent vaccine coverage by April or May.
For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health situation please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).