critical coronavirus patients in Italy drops for first time

Italy reported its lowest daily rise in coronavirus deaths for nearly two weeks on Saturday and said the number of  patients in critical condition had fallen for the first time.

Officials urged the country not to flout strict lockdown measures they said were starting to show results, although new cases rose by 4,805 on Saturday which was slightly higher than recent daily increases.

The Civil Protection department reported 681 deaths, bringing the total to 15,632 since the outbreak of the new coronavirus epidemic in northern Italy on Feb. 21. It was the lowest daily rise in deaths since March 23.

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 124,632 from 119,827 reported on Friday but for the first time, the number of patients in badly stretched intensive care units fell, with 3,994 patients being treated, down 74 from 4,068 on Friday.

As the case numbers have flattened in Italy, there has been increasing discussion about eventually rolling back a lockdown that has closed most businesses and slammed the brakes on an already fragile economy.

With the government looking at ways to protect the economy, a senior official said it planned to extend its powers to protect key companies from foreign takeover.