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Coronavirus update: Italy’s death toll surpasses China’s

11:28 | 20/03/2020

With 41,035 COVID-19 infections and 3,405 deaths, Italy has overtaken China, whose fatalities number stands at 3,245, making it the world's deadliest center of the outbreak.

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Line graph showing the cumulative deaths between China and Italy (Photo: Wall Street Journal)

The grim figure comes hours after China marked a major milestone in the battle to limit the spread, reporting no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the first time since the pandemic began.

Health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy's high toll, key among them its large population of elderly people, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus and likely to die than younger people, although severe cases have also been seen in younger patients.

The country is home to the world's second-oldest population after Japan.

Data compiled by Italy’s National Health Institute, its top disease-control body, shows that 87% of those who have died are over 70. Around 13% of Italians in their 70s who have tested positive for the virus have died, a ratio that rises to 21% for those in their 80s, according to data from Italy’s top disease-control body. Data from China in February show that 8% of infected people in their 70s were dying, and around 15% of people age 80 or over.

As a result, Italy's health care system has been overwhelmed by the virus, and on Thursday, Sun Shuopeng, the head of a Chinese Red Cross delegation helping advise Italy, said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transportation, eating out and partying in hotels.

"Right now we need to stop all economic activity, and we need to stop the mobility of people," he said. "All people should be staying at home in quarantine."

As cases ratcheted up, Italy imposed nationwide restrictions similar to those seen in China -- placing more than 60 million people under lockdown.

The country’s world-class health system has been pushed to the brink amid the outbreak, especially in the country's north, which has seen the highest concentration of cases.

People are being treated in field hospitals and lined up in corridors inside its straining public hospitals. Doctors and nurses are being infected, due to a lack of adequate protection.

Italian authorities are considering lengthening school closures beyond April 3, amid rumors of the lockdown also being extended.

"I think we are going toward an extension," Italian Education minister Lucia Azzolina said Thursday, adding that schools would reopen once there is "certainty of absolute safety."

coronavirus update italys death toll surpasses chinas
High death tolls in Italy is attributed to its old population (Photo: Wall Street Jour
Worldwide, the death toll crept toward 10,000 as the total number of infections topped 245,000, including nearly 87,000 people who have recovered.

Infections in the United States climbed past 10,000, and the virus appeared to be opening a new front in Africa, where countries announced aggressive measures to restrict travel and close public spaces.

Elsewhere in Europe, Prince Albert II of the principality of Monaco, just south of France, also revealed that he had been infected.

The palace of Monaco announced that he tested positive but was continuing to work from his office and was being treated by doctors from Princess Grace Hospital, named after his mother, Grace Kelly, the American actress.

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CNN/ Wall Street Journal/ CNBC