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Italy becomes country with most coronavirus deaths | World news


Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus has overtaken China’s as authorities in Rome announced 427 new fatalities in the past 24 hours, taking the country’s total to 3,405 – more than the 3,245 recorded in China, where the outbreak began late last year.

As European governments struggle to contain the rapidly spreading epidemic and China, for the first time, reported no new cases, the Civil Protection Agency said on Thursday that the total number of infections in Italy rose to 41,035 from 35,713 – a near 15% increase.

Mandatory mass lockdowns are set to be extended in both Italy and France, while Germany warned that it, too, would be forced to confine citizens in their homes if they continued to flout social distancing advice crucial to curbing the outbreak.

The European commission announced plans to stockpile €50m (£46m) of ventilators, masks and protective clothing to help EU states facing shortages of vital medical equipment.

The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said regulations introduced earlier this month closing all non-essential shops and allowing people to go out only for justified work or medical reasons “will have to be extended” beyond 3 April.

Conte added that “if the prohibitions are not respected, we will have to act again”. Ministers earlier said the rules might be tightened to include a complete ban on all outdoor activities after 47,000 people across the country were fined in one week for going out “without good reason”.

Italy has reported soaring rates of cases and deaths, including a record daily high of 475 on Wednesday. An army spokesman confirmed on Thursday that soldiers had removed bodies from the northern town of Bergamo, where funeral services are overwhelmed.

In France, which on Monday closed all shops except food stores and pharmacies and ordered people not go out unless to buy provisions, travel to work if it cannot be done from home, visit the doctor or take brief exercise, the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, described those breaking the rules as “imbeciles”.

The government on Thursday closed Mediterranean and Atlantic beaches, banned cycling, and asked people to keep their walks and runs as short as possible – just “a few minutes to stretch the legs” – and no longer than 1km-2km.

President Emmanuel Macron said an extension of the lockdown was likely, while Geneviève Chêne, the head of France’s public health agency, said up to four weeks of confinement would be needed for the outbreak to be adequately contained, depending on how closely people conformed with the restrictions. So far the country has seen 9,134 confirmed cases and 264 deaths.


The French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, earlier warned that France “would have difficulty” allowing travellers from Britain to enter unless the UK adopted similar restrictions soon. While its schools will close from Friday, Britain has yet to bring in mandatory social-distancing measures, with people urged – but not ordered – to avoid “non-essential contact”.

There are nearly 228,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and more than 9,300 people have died.

In Germany, where non-essential shops have been shut, public gatherings cancelled and citizens advised to stay at home as much as possible, authorities were considering imposing mandatory lockdowns after the chancellor, Angela Merkel, called the epidemic the country’s “biggest challenge since the second world war”.


Concerns are mounting in Berlin, Bavaria and elsewhere that people are continuing to socialise outside. “If people do not voluntarily follow restrictions, the only measure that remains is a state-wide confinement in order to react to that. Everybody needs to realise that,” the Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, said on Thursday.

The mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, said he was appalled by the lack of consideration that many Berliners were showing. “People do not understand. It is unacceptable that people are actually inviting each other to corona parties. It is terrible,” he said.

Germany, which has reported 12,853 cases and 34 deaths, is also readying the army to help tackle the crisis should other civil servants become overwhelmed, the defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said. “We are preparing for a worst-case scenario where a very large number of people will become infected and we have the human resources to help,” she said.

Coronavirus: the week explained – our expert correspondents put a week’s worth developments in context in one email newsletter

In Spain, where a mandatory lockdown has failed to stop the death toll climbing to 767, including 169 new fatalities on Thursday, with 17,147 confirmed cases, alarm is increasing at the spread of the virus in the country’s care homes.

The death toll in care homes in the Madrid region has exceeded 50, authorities said, while as many as 25 outbreaks have been confirmed in care homes in the Castilla La Mancha region.

“These are difficult days,” said Fernando Simón, the head of the country’s health emergency centre. “These are the days where we will continue to see the number of cases rise.”

As economies across the continent went into nosedive, the European Central Bank announced a €750bn economic stimulus programme lasting until the end of 2020. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary action,” the bank’s chief, Christine Lagarde, said.

In other developments:

  • Iran detected 1,046 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 18,407, and 149 deaths for a total of 1,284.

  • Russia registered its first coronavirus death, a 79-year-old woman who was being treated in a Moscow hospital.

  • Ireland’s parliament is due to pass emergency laws on Thursday allowing authorities to impose lockdown by decree.

  • The Sacre-Coeur basilica overlooking Paris was closed for the first time since it was built in 1914.

  • New Zealand and Australia closed their borders to all non-residents and non-citizens from midnight on Thursday and 9pm on Friday, respectively.

  • Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, confined residents to their homes for three weeks and closed borders with Greece and Bulgaria.

  • The chief executive of the German airline Lufthansa said governments might need to save the industry after it grounded 90% of its planes.

  • The death toll in Indonesia rose from five to 25.

  • Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he had tested positive for the infection.


In the US, where cases are rising by 40% a day, Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of food and drugs, said he thought a vaccine could be approved within 12 months, while the vice-president, Mike Pence, underlined the importance of social distancing to slow the epidemic’s spread. Donald Trump said: “Help is on the way.”

One major milestone came in China, where the virus originated, and where authorities on Thursday reported no new cases of Covid-19 acquired inside the country for the first time – although there was a rise in imported infections.

If no more cases are reported in Wuhan, the centre of the global outbreak, for 14 consecutive days, the city’s lockdown – in place since 23 January – could be lifted, local media said. Quarantine rules have already been slightly eased, allowing people to walk around their compounds rather than staying confined to living quarters.

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