ROME, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Italy reported a total of 23,225 new coronavirus cases, pushing the overall number of currently infected people to 759,982, the Ministry of Health reported on Thursday.
Of the overall current cases, 118,331 are in the northern, industrialized Lombardy region whose capital is Milan, where the virus first emerged in late February this year.
The southern Campania region whose capital is Naples followed with 100,371 cases, while the central Lazio region whose capital is Rome has the third-highest number of cases at 89,282, according to the Ministry of Health.
In the rest of Italian regions, cases ranged from 994 in the northern Valle d'Aosta region to 67,795 cases in the northern Veneto region, whose capital is Venice.
Of the overall cases, 724,613 people who have light or no symptoms are quarantined at home; 31,772 are hospitalized with symptoms; and 3,597 are in intensive care units -- 217 more compared with the figure on Wednesday.
Also on Thursday, 993 people lost their lives to COVID-19, drastically up from 684 reported on Wednesday, pushing the toll to 58,038.
Another 23,474 patients have recovered, bringing total recoveries since the start of the pandemic to 846,809.
VACCINE WILL BE "FREE AND NON-MANDATORY"
At a national press conference Thursday, Domenico Arcuri, the country's special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, said the COVID-19 vaccine "will be free for everyone and mandatory for no one."
While none of the vaccine candidates has yet been approved in the European Union, he said, "we all hope and expect" that the approval process will be completed by the second week of January and "the mass vaccination campaign we have prepared" can kick off in the third week.
The vaccine doses will be moved across Italy with the help of the Armed Forces, which "will be our main partner for the distribution, conservation, and security during the administration of the vaccine," Arcuri said, adding "we will request the help of up to 20,000 doctors and nurses" to administer the vaccine in some 2,000 locations across Italy, most of them in hospitals.
"All vaccination points will have the same layout and will be recognizable by all," Arcuri said.
The commissioner noted that "the infection curve is finally slowing down" and that restrictions put in place by the government a month ago "are working".
"Easing restrictions now would mean risking the third wave," and this must not happen in the midst of a vaccination drive because hospitals could be overwhelmed, he said.
ANTI-COVID-19 MEASURES "A CLEAVER" FOR TOURISM
In related news, Italy's National Federation of the Travel and Tourism Industry (Federturismo) on Thursday compared a new government decree containing restrictive anti-COVID measures for Christmas and New Year holidays to "a cleaver for the tourism industry."
"Hotels, restaurants and the ski lift sector have invested money and energy to guarantee safe stays for their guests ... Those same sectors are being denied the chance to work during the Christmas festivities, one of the most lucrative periods of the entire year," Federturismo said in a statement.
The ski lift sector alone generates a turnover of 1.2 billion euros (1.49 billion U.S. dollars) a year and employs 10,000 seasonal workers, according to Federturismo.
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