Medical staff get ready to receive a Covid-19 patient at the Spedali Civili Hospital in Brescia. AP
Italy's recorded 969 deaths from coronavirus on Friday, the highest daily toll anywhere in the world, while the number of confirmed cases eclipsed the total in China where the virus first emerged.
Italy was the first Western country to introduce swingeing restrictions on movement after uncovering the outbreak five weeks ago. It has tightened them week by week, banning all non-essential activities until at least next Friday.
Yet only the United States has now recorded more cases, while Italy has suffered almost twice as many deaths as any other nation.
The infection rate however continued its downward trend, with the civil protection agency reporting nearly 86,500 confirmed cases in Italy — a 7.4 per cent increase, down from around 8.0 per cent in previous days.
Prior to Friday's figure, the largest daily toll was registered on March 21, when 793 people died.
The 969 people who died over the last 24 hours compares with 712 deaths on Thursday, 683 on Wednesday, 743 on Tuesday and 602 on Monday.
The total number of confirmed cases rose to 86,498 from a previous 80,539, taking Italy's total past that of China, where the coronavirus epidemic emerged at the end of last year.
The United States already surpassed China's tally of cases on Thursday.
In Italy, of those originally infected nationwide, 10,950 had fully recovered on Friday, compared to 10,361 the day before. There were 3,732 people in intensive care against a previous 3,612.
The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy reported a steep rise in fatalities compared with the day before and remains in a critical situation, with a total of 5,402 deaths and 37,298 cases.
That compared with 4,861 deaths and 34,889 cases reported up to Thursday.
Friday's cumulative death tally included 50 fatalities that actually occurred on Thursday in the northern Piedmont region, but whose notification arrived too late to be included in the official figures for March 26, the Civil Protection Agency said.
Underscoring the challenge confronting Italy, the Civil Protection agency said the death toll had jumped 349 in the last 24 hours to 2,158, a rise of 19%.
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