ROME: Italy on Thursday (Mar 19) overtook China’s coronavirus death total and braced for an extended lockdown that could see the economy suffer its biggest shock since World War II.
The Mediterranean country’s toll reached 3,405 after it recorded 427 new deaths on Wednesday.
READ: Italy reports 475 new coronavirus deaths, highest one-day toll of any nation
China has officially reported 3,245 deaths since registering the first case at the end of last year.
On Thursday, the Italian Civil Protection Agency said at a news conference that the total number of cases in the country rose to 41,035, which includes 5,322 new cases.
The number of new COVID-19 cases is yet to plateau despite the Italian government’s best efforts.
Army trucks delivered new coffins on Thursday to a cemetery in the northern Italian city of Bergamo that suddenly finds itself at the global heart of the unfolding disaster.
Burials were taking place 30 minutes apart to avoid contagion through crowds.
Masked undertakers wrapped from head to toe in white suits carted the coffins on gurneys to speed up the process.
Italy’s ANSA news agency said the deaths of two more doctors in the nearby town of Como west of Bergamo on Thursday brought the total number of medics killed by the new disease to 13.
READ: Italy rushes new doctors into service as coronavirus deaths rise above 2,500
“Use your common sense and act with utmost caution,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italians.
“We are not underestimating anything and always acting based on the worst-case scenario.”
Conte enjoys overwhelming support from Italians for a lockdown that – while not as draconian as China’s quarantine of Wuhan’s Hubei province – seemed unimaginable for a Western democracy until this month.
A poll published in the daily La Repubblica found that 47 per cent viewed the closure of most businesses and all shools and public institutions “positively”.
Another 47 per cent viewed them “very positively” and just four per cent said they were opposed.
READ: Italy to extend lockdown measures over virus: Conte
Some of Conte’s strictest measures – such as the closure of all shops except for grocery stores and pharmacies – had been due to expire next Wednesday.
The Italian leader was adamant that an extension of all these precautions was inevitable.
He said no new restrictions were being considered but warned: “If our prohibitions are not respected, we will have to act.”
Schools are thus unlikely to reopen on Apr 3 and working parents will have to find ways to look after their children while working from home for many more weeks or months.
Italy is imposing 206 euro (US$222) fines for anyone found wandering the streets without a valid excuse such as grocery shopping or getting to and from work.
Police in Rome repeat periodic instructions out of megaphones for everyone to “stay home and maintain distance” from each other.
Some stores are ordering shoppers to put on disposable plastic gloves.
The northern region of Emilia-Romagna took the extra step late on Wednesday of banning jogging and walks – exercise that the national government in Rome had encouraged for health reasons.
Conte’s most tangible response to the crisis has involved putting together a 25-billion-euro (US$28 billion) economic rescue package designed to help the worst affected industries.
The tourism operators’ union said on Thursday it expected the number of visitors to drop to levels last seen in the mid-1960s.
But Conte looked for the silver lining in the disaster.
The crisis has forced ministers to “make the biggest effort in dozens of years to simplify the investment process – something that nobody (in Italy) has ever done,” Conte said.