ROME: Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy rose by 636 on Monday (Apr 6), more than 100 higher than the previous daily tally of 525, the Civil Protection Agency said, but the number of new cases fell sharply.
Italy's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak is now at 16,523, the highest in the world.
The total number of confirmed cases increased by 3,599 to 132,547, the lowest daily rise since Mar 17, underscoring hopes that the illness might be on the retreat thanks to a nationwide lockdown introduced on Mar 9.
Before Monday, daily increases since Mar 17 had all been in a range of 4,050-6,557.
Of those originally infected, 22,837 were declared recovered on Monday against 21,815 a day earlier. There were 3,898 people in intensive care, down 79 on Sunday - a third successive daily decline.
Authorities in northern Italy have begun testing health workers for antibodies that may help identify individuals with immunity to the coronavirus as they look for ways to ease the lockdown imposed a month ago to contain the epidemic.
On Monday, the northeastern region of Veneto, which saw one of Italy's earliest outbreaks of the disease in February, started blood tests on health workers, following neighbouring Emilia Romagna, which began testing last week.
Following an initial phase of testing on 2,000-3,000 health workers, tests are to be extended to staff and residents in nursing homes and workers in contact with the public.
Regional governor Luca Zaia said the aim would ultimately be to allow authorities to issue "licences" for individuals with proven immunity to the virus to return to work.
US$430 BILLION INJECTED INTO ECONOMY
Italy on Monday also unveiled a record €400 billion (US$430 billion) stimulus to help businesses hurt by the month-long national lockdown.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the nation to be patient in the face of a pandemic, while also urging people to stay at home.
"We will soon see a new spring for Italy but for the moment we must stay at home," the Italian leader said in a television address.
The programme will add to the €340 billion in government-backed loans announced last month.
Conte said it represented "the most powerful intervention in the country's history".
Half of the new package will be earmarked for export-oriented companies whose turnover has imploded over the past month.
Italy's health "emergency is also an economic and social one", Conte said.
The government also announced that it will take steps to protect Italian companies weakened by the economic crisis from being taken over by foreign competitors.
"This moment of difficult will not translate into an opportunity to prey on Italian companies," Cabinet undersecretary Riccardo Fraccaro said.