ROME, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Italy continued to see a downward trend in the novel coronavirus infections on Friday, almost three weeks after the exit of a national lockdown.
With 652 new infections reported over the past 24 hours, the country's total active infections stood at 59,322, down from 60,960 on Thursday, according to the Civil Protection Department.
The Lombardy region with Milan as its capital, where the pandemic officially first broke out on Feb. 21, still led the way in terms of active infections with 25,933 cases. At the other end of the spectrum was the northern Valle d'Aosta region in the Alps with only 43 infections.
Nationwide, recoveries rose by 2,160 within the 24-hour period, bringing the total to 136,720, up from 134,560 on Thursday.
Of those who tested positive for the coronavirus, 595 are in intensive care, down by 45compared to Thursday, and 8,957 are hospitalized with symptoms, down by 312 over the past 24 hours, the Civil Protection Department said.
The remaining 49,770 people, or 84 percent of those who tested positive, are isolated at home with no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
With 130 new deaths within a day, 32,616 people have succumbed to the virus-caused disease in Italy as of Friday.
The overall number of COVID-19 infections, fatalities, and recoveries has risen to 228,658 cases as of Friday, up from 228,006 cases on Thursday.
Also on Friday, the National Institute for Workplace Accident Insurance (INAIL, in its Italian acronym) said in a statement that 43,399 COVID-19 infections occurred in the workplace between the end of February and May 15, up by 6,000 cases compared to its last report out May 4.
Fatalities rose by 42 to a total of 171 deaths. "About half of the fatalities occurred among health care and social services staff, and nine out of 10 were aged over 50," according to INAIL.
As well, 71.7 percent of those infected were women and 28.3 percent were men, but the gender difference was reversed among the deceased, of whom 82.5 percent were male, INAIL said.
DANGER "NOT PAST"
Italy's COVID-19 infection numbers are "encouraging", Health Minister Roberto Speranza tweeted on Friday. "They tell us the country has withstood the initial reopening on May 4."
"But we must not imagine that we have won. Maximum caution is needed. It takes very little to nullify the sacrifices made so far," the health minister wrote.
Speranza posted his comments after a televised press conference earlier in the day by the National Institute of Health (ISS) President Silvio Brusaferro, who said that "the epidemiological curve... clearly shows it is decreasing" and that "the number of asymptomatic cases is growing."
This means that more and more swabs and contact-tracing activities are being carried out, he explained.
Brusaferro also said that Italy's 20 regions can be divided into "three speeds" of infection since some have very few cases and others have "a significant number," but that "all are decreasing."
Even the Lombardy region where the pandemic first showed up and where the most deaths have occurred is showing a "clear-cut downward trend," Brusaferro added.
The key point, he said, is that the new coronavirus monitoring system the government has put in place is designed to be as sensitive as possible and that authorities will pay attention to "even the slightest sign of a spike" in infections.
"The objective is to prevent the resurgence of epidemic curves that could spiral out of control," Brusaferro said.
Brusaferro was followed by Dr. Giovanni Rezza, the former director of the ISS Infectious Diseases Department who was named Director-General for Preventive Healthcare at the Ministry of Health earlier this month.
Rezza said, "there are two major concerns" in passing from Phase One (lockdown) to Phase Two (post-lockdown): that people fail to follow anti-virus protocols, such as mask wearing and social distancing, and that health authorities fail to "quickly identify and contain" any new COVID-19 outbreaks.
"Health authorities must be able to register even the smallest sign of alarm," Rezza said.
"Thanks to the lockdown, we knocked out the epidemic, (but) we know the virus will continue circulating, (and) the danger is not past," he continued.
"The resilience of the health care system and its capacity to identify hotbeds have increased, and this high level of attention must be maintained constantly," Rezza said.
TOURISM SEES DIRE DAYS AHEAD
In a joint news release on Friday, Italy's Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MIBACT) and the National Tourism Board (ENIT) said that in the first four months of 2020, international air traffic to Italy collapsed by 64.8 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
International bookings for the June-August summer season have dropped by 81.4 percent, compared to -80.1 percent in France and -77.5 percent in Spain.
ENIT forecast a 49-percent drop in international overnight stays this year compared to 2019.
Total visitors (both foreign and domestic) are expected to fall by 41 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The volume of visitors, both national and international, should return to or exceed 2019 levels by 2023.
These scenarios could change for better or worse, depending on how successfully the pandemic is contained and whether or not a second wave occurs, the statement said.
Tourism represents the fourth largest export category in the European Union (EU), according to ENIT. Enditem