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article imageItaly mourns its virus dead at end of fateful month

By Dmitry ZAKS (AFP)     Mar 31, 2020 in World

Italy marked a minute of silence and flew flags at half mast Tuesday to mourn the 12,428 people who have died from the coronavirus pandemic that has dramatically altered life in the Mediterranean country.

The nation of 60 million people has recorded nearly a third of all fatalities caused by COVID-19 across the world.

The day of mourning marks a month in which Italy saw more deaths from a single disaster than at any time since World War II.

It was first detected in Italy near the northern financial hub Milan in late February before spreading and overwhelming hospitals with critically ill patients.

More than 4,000 people are currently receiving intensive care treatment for COVID-19 in Italy.

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said the virus "is an injury that hurt the whole country"
Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said the virus "is an injury that hurt the whole country"
ANDREAS SOLARO, AFP

The virus "is an injury that hurt the whole country," Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said after a priest read a prayer for the dead and the nation observed a minute's silence.

"Together, we will get through this," she said at a ceremony held outside Rome's city hall.

Vatican City also flew its yellow-and-white flags at half mast in solidarity.

- When will normalcy return? -

The Italian government imposed an unprecedented lockdown three weeks ago to help stem the spread of a virus that has now officially infected more than 105,000 people in the country.

The financial cost of the forced closure of almost all businesses threatens to send Italy's economy -- the European Union's third largest last year -- into its deepest recession in decades.

The government decided Monday to extend the shutdown until at least mid-April.

Stores and restaurants are not expected to start reopening until at least May and no official is willing to predict when life might return to the way it was just a month ago.

The streets of Rome around the Colosseum are deserted
The streets of Rome around the Colosseum are deserted
Elio CASTORIA, AFP/File

Italy's big business lobby Confindustria said it expected the country's total output to shrink by six percent if the pandemic does not ease by the end of May.

It said each additional week after that would chop another 0.75 percent off Italy's gross domestic product (GDP).

Big businesses around the northern city of Bergamo where the death rates are some of the world's highest sound anxious about their long-term prospects.

"Saying 'close everything' may be right, but it is not sustainable forever," the lobby's Bergamo branch president Stefano Scaglia told the Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper.

"The real, complicated thing to do -- and one no one seems to be doing -- is to try to understand how we can restart things again."

Government health council chief Franco Locatelli pointed to a gradual slowdown in the rate of new deaths and infections as a sign that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's policies worked.

"We are seeing results, and we would not have seen those results without the containment measures," Locatelli told the daily Il Messaggero.

"We are going in the right direction and we must not change our strategy," the government health expert said.

"The goal is to contain the situation and avert new epidemic outbreaks."

Italy reported 837 deaths on Tuesday. Its single-day record was 969 on Friday -- the highest daily toll recorded anywhere in the world.

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