Italy and Spain have both recorded their highest daily coronavirus death tolls of the second wave, reporting 731 and 435 deaths respectively over the past 24 hours.
Italy, the first western country hit by the virus, has logged 46,464 Covid deaths while Spain has logged 41,688.
Such high Italian daily death figures have not been seen since 3 April, when the country was still in lockdown. The Spanish toll is well up on last week’s previous second-wave record of 411 deaths.
The second wave has already killed 9,000 people in Italy, where the alternative approach to a nationwide lockdown has so far shown little success. The number of total infections passed 1m last week and cases are rising at more than 30,000 a day.
Early in October the government introduced a coloured three-tiered system to combat the virus. Regions are divided into three zones – red for the highest risk, then orange and yellow.
In the red zones – which include Lombardy, Tuscany, Calabria, the autonomous province of Bolzano, Liguria, Piedmont and Aosta Valley – residents can only leave home for work, health reasons, essential shopping or emergencies. In the orange and yellow zones, slightly less severe restrictions were introduced.
A leading physician said on Tuesday that the government may have to make them tougher.
“Next week we’ll know if the [contagion] curve has stabilized or has started to come down,” Andrea Crisanti, the director of microbiology and virology at the University of Padua, told the news agency ANSA.
“If it does not come down, it will be necessary to do something else. The social and emotional price is immense – 9,000 people have died since the start of the second wave, we must not forget that.”
The Veneto region on Tuesday registered 100 deaths, its highest daily toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
Intensive care unit (ICU) doctors said the strain on units during the second wave was almost unbearable in high-risk red zones.
Antonino Giarratano, head of the ICU doctors association SIAARTI, told TV channel Rai 3: “It has been stated that the pressure on intensive care is sustainable but in fact in the red regions the pressure is almost unsustainable, and in the orange ones it is very, very heavy.”
Covid-19 and the containment measures have pushed Italy’s economy into a deep contraction.
The Italian retailers association Confcommercio said on Tuesday that consumer spending plunged again in October, dropping 8.1% year on year. Tourism-linked businesses were hardest hit, with recreation services down 73.2%, hotels down 60% and bars and restaurants down 38%, it said.
In Spain, which has been under a new state of emergency since the end of October, the total number of cases has passed the 1.5m mark to reach 1,510,023. More than 219,000 cases have been diagnosed over the past fortnight alone.
Although the number of cases per 100,000 people is decreasing across Spain as a whole, infection levels remain high in some regions: there are 798.3 cases per 100,000 people in Castilla y León, compared with a national average of 465.9.
Hospitals are also under pressure, with 32.5% of Spain’s ICU beds occupied by Covid patients. Fernando Simón, the head of the national health emergencies centre, said that while infection rates appeared to be coming down, “this trend we’re seeing is not a victory”.