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Italy’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 610 in the last 24 hours to 18,279, the highest in the world, even as pressure on the country’s hospitals continued to ease with a fall in the number of patients in intensive care units, the Civil Protection Agency said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held a teleconference with business and labour leaders to discuss when Italy can begin to relax the restrictions imposed to contain the disease, Efe news reported.

The shutdown was initially meant to last until April 13, but chances that any significant easing would take place was deemed as virtually non-existent.

“We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” Conte told the BBC.

The final decision on when and how to re-open the economy will be made by the Scientific Technical Council that is advising the government on the crisis.

The number of new confirmed cases grew 1,615 overnight to 96,877. That increase was larger than the previous day’s, 1,195, and nearly double Tuesday’s figure of 880.

The total number of cases in the country now stands at 153,222, the second highest in the world after the US (466,033).

Civil Protection chief Angelo Borrelli said that the number of people hospitalized fell by 86 to 28,339 and 88 coronavirus patients were moved out of ICUs, leaving 3,605, he said.

“The past five days, have ended with fewer patients hospitalized compared to the previous day,” Franco Locatelli, chair of Italy’s Higher Health Council, told reporters on Thursday.

With concern about the economic damage from the shutdown growing more acute, the Senate approved on Thursday a 25 billion euro ($27.3 billion) aid package.

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