ROME, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Italy's Ministry of Health said on Sunday that 24 people died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours -- almost all of them in one region -- the lowest single-day deaths recorded since March 2 and the strongest sign yet that Italy has emerged from the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.
Italy largely focused on other matters over the weekend, which included the country's first regular-season football games since before the lockdown and the fate of Alex Zanardi, a race car driver-turned-Paralympian who was fighting for his life after a serious road accident Saturday.
The news regarding the coronavirus outbreak was overwhelmingly positive compared to past weeks and months. Not only was the low one-day death toll, but also the 224 new infections in Italy, the lowest in five days and the 21st time in 22 days the total was below 500.
A total of 440 people recovered from the disease in the last 24 hours, bringing that total to 182,893. Meanwhile, 18,510 people were recovering at home with symptoms, 76 fewer than a day earlier. Those in intensive-care units were down by four to 148, and those hospitalized with symptoms totaled 2,314, down by 160.
Among Italy's 20 regions, 16 recorded no COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, which had not happened since February.
But Lombardy, Italy's most populous region and the region hardest hit by the pandemic, continued to bear the brunt of the outbreak, with 128 of the country's 224 new cases and 13 of 24 deaths over the last 24 hours.
As another signal that life is getting back to normal, regular season games resumed in Italy's top Serie A professional league over the weekend, with two games played Saturday. But the games were played without fans in the stands.
More than 100 games are scheduled before the season will be complete. Serie A officials said this weekend they tentatively plan to let some fans attend games starting next month, but that is contingent on permission from the Ministry of Health.
Apart from the popular sports, the fate of an individual also grabbed the attention of the public.
Zanardi, 53 years old, is a former race car champion who miraculously survived a dramatic accident in 2001 but lost both legs. Over the next several years he shifted to hand cycling and won numerous medals in international games.
On Saturday, Zanardi was participating in an amateur race in Tuscany when he was involved in a traffic accident. As of Sunday, he was in critical but stable condition.
The accident sparked well-wishes from all over the world, including from Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who issued a statement saying, "You never gave up, and with your extraordinary strength of will you overcame a thousand challenges. All of Italy is fighting with you."