Italy reported another 699 deaths related to the novel coronavirus on Friday, as well as 37,242 more cases, showing that the contagion curve was stabilizing despite the virus still circulating widely.
According to Health Ministry data, the new fatalities registered in the past 24 hours brought the national death toll to 48,569 -- still the second-highest in Europe after the UK.
New daily infections grew by almost 3% from a day before, with the total number of cases reaching 1,345,767.
"We are seeing a stabilization in cases, but unfortunately the number of deaths remains high, and this is not reassuring," Giovanni Rezza, the director of the National Health Institute, said at a news conference Friday.
Health officials also noted that -- at a national level -- the transmission rate decreased to 1.2, with four regions falling below 1, which is the government's countrywide target.
Experts also confirmed that the contagion curve appeared to have reached "a plateau" and is approaching its peak.
The infection rate rose above 15.6% from 14.4% on Thursday, but remained below the 17% peak reached in the past week.
The most worrying data remained the occupancy rate of intensive care units, with more than 41% of all ICUs in the country occupied by COVID-19 patients, well above the 30% critical threshold.
After a strong response to the first outbreak last spring, Italy has been struggling to face the second wave of the pandemic.
With most Italian hospitals overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, the government has gradually toughened its restrictions in seven regions, now classified as high-risk "red zones."
Health officials noted Friday that the partial lockdowns imposed in the worst-hit areas were starting to yield results.
However, they urged people not to lower their guard and continue complying with safety rules, in order not to repeat "the mistakes made last summer."