Italy has recorded a smaller day-to-day increase in new coronavirus cases for the second straight day, officials said, while warning it was too soon to know if the worst is behind the country with the world's second-biggest caseload.

Data from the civil protection agency on Monday showed 4,789 new cases, nearly 700 fewer than the increase of 5,560 reported on Sunday.

The number of deaths also did not rise by as many. There were just over 600 registered on Monday compared with 651 on Sunday.

Italy has been anxious to see the figures for new cases and deaths go down as its health system struggles under the weight of the world's largest Covid-19 outbreak outside China.

By Monday, Italy had a total of 59,138 virus cases compared with China's 81,496.

"We need more consecutive results to confirm the trend, to be more certain that we are in a favourable situation"

Health authorities have said it will be a few more days before they know if Italy is at the beginning of a positive trend.

A senior national health official, Silvio Brusaferro, resisted being too optimistic, saying the improvements were due to actions taken at the beginning of the month, not in recent days.

"We need more consecutive results to confirm the trend, to be more certain that we are in a favourable situation," he said.

"I don't feel like taking one side or the other to confirm that it is there or not. We can take note of what we see today."

In Milan, the capital of Lombardy, by far Italy's worst-hit region, local health officials expressed cautious optimism as day-to-day increases of positive test results and new hospital admissions were smaller, but they expressed renewed worry about the need for additional intensive care beds.

Cuba's decision to dispatch a team 50 medical personnel to the country also came as a welcome boost.

The crisis has already claimed the lives of 18 doctors in Europe's worst-hit country, with Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reporting that 36 doctors, 15 graduate nurses and a logistics specialist from the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade had been sent to a field hospital in Crema in Lombardy to bolster local resources. 

Moving reception for 52 Cuban doctors arriving in Italy to help fight #coronavirus.
"He who says he is not afraid is a superhero, but we are not superheros, we are revolutionary doctors." Leonardo Fernandez, intensive care specialist

— Cuba Solidarity (@CubaSolidarity) March 22, 2020

Alma Clara Corsini became the oldest person to recover from the virus at a hospital near Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region. 

The 95-year-old grandmother, who was initially hospitalised on 5 March, told reporters: "I'm fine, I'm absolutely fine."

Praising those medical professionals who hastened her recovery, she added: "They were wonderful, the people who looked after me."

Meanwhile, the Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis has cancelled his one-day trip to Malta on 31 May  due to the outbreak, saying that it would be rescheduled at a later date.