Italy now has more coronavirus cases than China for the first time after the hard-hit Lombardy region recorded another 2,409 infections today.
The figures mean that Italy has now registered at least 82,948 virus cases, overtaking China which has racked up 81,897.
Italy’s unwanted lead is likely to grow further when Friday’s nationwide figures are released later.
The death toll in Lombardy, which includes Milan and the heavily-affected province of Bergamo, also surged by 541 to reach 5,402 today.
The head of Italy’s national health institute warned today that ‘we haven’t reached the peak and we haven’t passed it’.
Italy’s national lockdown is already in its third week but school closures and a ban on non-essential activities are likely to be extended beyond April 3.
The world also passed another grim landmark today as the global death toll reached 25,000, the majority of them in Europe.
Medical staff wearing face masks and blue protective suits treat a coronavirus patient in an intensive care unit at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan today
Medical staff attend to coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit in Milan today, in the region of Lombardy which has been hardest hit by the crisis
China still had a majority of world infections and deaths as recently as March 15, according to World Health Organisation figures.
In the 12 days since then, its proportion of global deaths has fallen from 56 per cent to 13 per cent.
Cases have continued to surge in Italy despite a national lockdown which is now in its third week.
The government in Rome has progressively tightened the rules, banning all non-essential activities until at least next Friday.
Franco Locatelli, who heads the council which advises the government on health matters, told reporters this deadline would need extending.
‘If I had to decide using today’s data, I believe it is inevitable these measures will be prolonged,’ he said.
Schools and universities were amongst the first places to be shut down, closing their doors nationwide on March 5.
Education minister Lucia Azzolina said on Friday that the current date for the order to be lifted, April 3, would also have to be extended.
‘Our aim is to ensure that students return to school only when we are completely sure that it is safe. Health is the priority,’ she told state broadcaster RAI.
Lombardy has taken the heaviest hit in Italy, accounting for around 43 per cent of cases and 60 per cent of deaths.
The crisis has left hospitals in northern Italy overwhelmed and forced doctors into unenviable life-or-death decisions over who gets access to intensive care.
The body count has also been too much for morgues and cemeteries, who have had to call in the army to take coronavirus victims away for cremation.
This graph shows the daily number of coronavirus cases in Italy as of Thursday evening, when the country’s total tally hit 80,539. The new cases in Lombardy mean it is now at least 82,948
This graph shows the daily number of deaths, also updated to Thursday evening. The figure on Thursday was 662 new deaths bringing the total to 8,165
An Italian priest wearing a face mask hands out bags of food to homeless and poor people who were queuing up in Italy today
The head of the country’s national health institute warned today that infections in Italy have yet to reach their peak.
‘We haven’t reached the peak and we haven’t passed it,’ Silvio Brusaferro, told reporters.
However, he added that there were however ‘signs of a slowdown’ in the numbers of people becoming infected.
‘When the descent begins, how steep it is will depend on our behaviour,’ Brusaferro said.
The coronavirus crisis has now killed 44 medics after another four died yesterday and two today, a doctor’s federation says.
The Italian Federation of Medical Professionals said the latest victims included doctors in Bergamo, Turin, Genoa, Lecco and Pesaro e Urbino.
Some 6,414 medical workers have been infected, an Italian research institute says – taking them away from the health service when they are desperately needed.
The infected health workers make up nearly 8.0 per cent of Italy’s total cases.
The latest medics to die of Covid-19 include pulmonologist Marcello Ugolini, 70, and medical councillor Anna Maria Focarete, 69, who died today, according to the federation.
Of the four who died yesterday, two were associated with the province of Bergamo which has been exceptionally hard hit by the crisis.
‘What we face every day is a real war bulletin. Doctors and their families mourn their dead,’ said Filippo Anelli, president of the doctors’ federation.
The doctors’ federation has warned that the true death toll may be higher because ‘many doctors die suddenly, even if the cause of death is not directly attributable to the virus, because the swab is not carried out.’
A member of the medical staff in a protective suit treats a patient suffering from coronavirus in an intensive care unit in Milan today
On top of that, at least one nurse is believed to have killed herself after being infected with coronavirus and fearing she had spread the disease to others.
Daniela Trezzi, 34, had been working on the front line of the coronavirus crisis at a hospital in Lombardy, the worst-affected region of Italy.
The National Federation of Nurses of Italy confirmed her death and expressed its ‘pain and dismay’ in a statement earlier this week.
The nursing group also revealed that ‘a similar episode had happened a week ago in Venice, with the same underlying reasons’.
Many Italian hospitals have been overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and are facing shortages of ventilators and other medical supplies.
Thousands of medics falling sick has taken them away from the front line when they are urgently needed.
Nino Cartabellotta, the head of the Gimbe foundation which is gathering data on the number of infected medics, urged that this ‘phenomemon’ must be ‘curbed to safeguard those who take care of us’.
As well as hospital doctors and general practitioners, the dead include dentists, psychiatrists and an ophthalmologist.
Italy’s overall death toll of 8,165 is the highest in the world.
An Italian soldier holds his weapon while wearing gloves and a face mask as police and the army guard access to the town of Nerola today
A man wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant over an army truck near the cemetery in Bergamo, which has been unable to cope with the number of deaths
Doctors stand over the bed of a coronavirus patient in Rome, in a country where hospitals have been facing medical shortages because of the crisis
Doctors treat coronavirus patients in an intensive care unit in Rome today. More than 6,200 medics have been infected with the flu-like illness
An armed Italian soldier looks on as a woman walks towards a vehicle in the town of Nerola today. The town, around 30 miles north of Rome, has been designated as a ‘red zone’