Italy’s coronavirus death toll is now higher than China’s

March 19, 2020, 7:13 PM UTC

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Italy surpassed China as the country with the most coronavirus deaths, as its number of fatalities reached 3,405 and the pandemic’s global spread accelerates.

With Europe now the epicenter of the outbreak, Italy has 41,035 total cases of the virus, civil protection officials said on Thursday. This includes 4,440 who have recovered from the illness. The country has been under a nationwide lockdown since earlier this month.

The number of deaths over the past day fell to 427 on Thursday from 475 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, no new infections were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, and new cases have slowed to a trickle across China, a dramatic plunge from the height of an outbreak that has killed more than 3,000 there. Epidemiologists warn the country could face subsequent waves of infections.

While the pandemic is spreading rapidly through Spain, France and other European countries, the disease has taken the heaviest toll on Italy.

There, the first cases were detected in late January among two Chinese tourists, but the virus then went undetected for about three weeks until a man in the northern region of Lombardy was diagnosed with the virus.

By that time the pathogen may already have been spreading, and the country reported its first deaths on Feb. 23. Since then the flareup has been even more rapid than in China, despite ever tighter restrictions on people’s movement across Italy after an initial quarantine of the towns at the heart of the outbreak proved inadequate.

Despite the devastating impact of containment measures on the economy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday that he he will extend a nationwide lockdown beyond its original March 25 deadline. Schools, which had been scheduled to reopen April 3, will stay closed longer than originally planned.

With the caseload surging, hospitals in Lombardy — which includes Italy’s economic and financial capital of Milan — have been overwhelmed. Intensive-care beds are running short and strapped medical professionals are having to make triage decisions about whom to treat with life-saving equipment, according to docotrs on the front lines.

One ray of hope may be that the rate of new confirmed coronavirus diagnoses has slowed in recent days. Italy, like some other European countries, has scaled back testing as the virus spreads, so more new cases may also be going undetected.

Europe overtook China in the total number of cases on Wednesday, with more than 80,000 diagnoses in each region. The official tally may vastly understate the actual infections, though. Health authorities in the U.K. have said the actual number of cases is probably more than 20 times the reported figure.

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