Italy on Thursday reported 822 new deaths related to the novel coronavirus, as the number of daily fatalities remained close to the peaks seen late March, when the country was the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.

According to the latest Health Ministry data, the country registered 29,003 additional infections in the past 24 hours, up 12% from a day before, reaching a total of 1,509,875 since the start of the outbreak.

With Thursday’s daily fatalities, the national death toll rose to 52,850, the second-highest in Europe after the UK.

But the infection rate stayed at around 12%, slightly up from a day before — still far lower than the peaks at over 17% seen two weeks ago.

Experts noted that the virus is still circulating, but at a much slower pace, while the number of deaths will take longer to show a slowdown. An infection rate lower than 10% would allow the Italian testing and tracing system to start working properly again, they added.

After struggling to contain the second wave of the pandemic, the Italian government is now studying new measures for the Christmas period, in a bid to allow people to celebrate with their relatives without risking a third wave of contagion early next year.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has already anticipated that ski slopes will continue to be closed over Christmas and urged Italy’s alpine neighbors to do the same and act in a coordinated way to avoid new outbreaks.

The government is expected to approve a new decree early December, which should include new rules for shops and other business activities, to guarantee longer shopping hours for the Christmas holidays and allow close relatives living in different regions to reunite.

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