Rome, Dec 29 (IANS) Italy's coronavirus infection and mortality rates have continued to show improvement as the country, one of the hardest-hit in Europe, approached the halfway point in its nationwide holiday lockdown.
On Monday, the country recorded 8,585 new infections, down from 8,913 a day earlier, increasing the overall caseload to 2,056,277, Xinhua news agency reported.
The back-to-back totals represented the first time the infection rate was below 10,000 on consecutive days since October 14-15, with Monday's new infections nearly one-fifth of the country's all-time peak of 40,896 on November 13.
The pandemic claimed 445 lives over the 24-hour period ending Monday.
It was the third consecutive day with fewer than 500 deaths, a level seen just three times in the previous 50 days.
The death toll now stands at 72,370.
Other coronavirus indicators improved as well: the total number of active cases in the country declined by more than 6,500 to just over 575,000.
There were 2,565 Italians in intensive-care units, 15 fewer than a day earlier and a drop of 320 compared to ten days ago.
The latest developments come a day after Italy began its national coronavirus vaccination rollout and on the fifth day of a 14-day national lockdown.
The lockdown aimed to curb large gatherings over the holiday season that in Italy are known for parties, big meals, and popular celebrations.
"I am satisfied and also proud of the way we have approached this decisive period," Minister of Health Roberto Speranza told La Stampa newspaper on Monday.
"We may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," he added.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte praised the vaccine rollout, saying that "today, Italy is awakening", adding that the date will remain in people's memories "forever".
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Enrico Letta said that the discipline shown so far during the holidays combined with the arrival of effective vaccines meant that Italy was "living in a period of hope".
But sounding caution, Domenico Arcuri, Italy's Extraordinary Commissioner for the Coronavirus Emergency, said: "Slowly, we are emerging from the dark night of the pandemic, but we must continue to be prudent, cautious, and responsible."