A nurse puts on her work gear at the start of a shift on March 12, 2020 at the Cremona hospital, southeast of Milan, Lombardy, during the country's lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 (new coronavirus) pandemic. - After weeks of struggle, they're being hailed as heroes. But the Italian healthcare workers are exhausted from their war against the new coronavirus. (Photo by Paolo MIRANDA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / PAOLO MIRANDA" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo by PAOLO MIRANDA/AFP via Getty Images)
A nurse puts on protective gear before starting her shift at the Cremona hospital in Lombardy © AFP via Getty Images

Be the first to know about every new Coronavirus story

The total number of deaths in Italy from the coronavirus outbreak rose to 4,825 on Saturday, marking the worst day for casualties since the crisis began, as Spain also recorded a jump in fatalities.

Official Italian numbers showed that the country’s death toll from the disease had increased by 793 over the past 24 hours, while the total number of diagnosed cases rose 14 per cent to 53,578.

The data showed that the total number of active cases — which strips out the recovered and the deceased — also rose sharply by 13 per cent to 42,681. To date, 6,072 people in Italy have recovered, while 2,857 people are in intensive care.

On Saturday, 546 people more deaths were reported in the northern region of Lombardy alone.

Spain recorded more than 300 deaths from the virus on Saturday, taking its total number of fatalities to 1,326.

“Unfortunately, the worst is to come,” said Pedro Sánchez, prime minister, in an address to the nation on Saturday night, as he warned that Spain’s number of deaths and diagnosed cases would continue to rise. “We have yet to feel the impact of the hardest, most damaging phase that will test to the limit our moral and material capacity.”

The number of documented Spanish cases of coronavirus increased by almost 5,000, according to figures released on Saturday, reaching 24,926 cases, with 1,612 people in intensive care.

Compared with Friday’s figures, the new numbers represent a 25 per cent increase in cases, a 40 per cent surge in people in intensive care and a 32 per cent increase in the death toll. Overall, 2,125 people have recovered.

Spain’s hospitals and intensive care units are struggling to cope, despite some Madrid hotels being temporarily converted into medical facilities, along with the Fair of Madrid, the capital’s main exhibition space.

Madrid remains the worst-affected part of Spain, with 8,921 cases, 767 people in intensive care and 804 deaths.

Mr Sánchez warned of the risk of a collapse of the health system if the spread of the disease was not brought under control, while acknowledging that, unlike a number of Asian countries, “western society was not prepared for a pandemic.”

But he resisted suggestions that he tighten the lockdown Spain has been under for almost a week, saying that Spain was already under the “toughest measures in Europe and almost the world”.

In several parts of Spain, including Madrid and Seville, people banged pots and pans at the scheduled time of Mr Sánchez’s address, in protest at the government’s management of the crisis.

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 21: In this handout from the Comunidad de Madrid, workers install a field hospital for coronavirus patients in Ifema on March 21, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. The Community of Madrid and the UME (Spanish Emergency Army Unit) are installing a specific hospital for COVID-19 with 5,500 beds and an UCI (Intensive Care Unit). The number of people confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Spain has increased to at least 24,900, with the latest death toll reaching 1,328 according to the countrys Health Ministry. (Photo by Comunidad de Madrid via Getty Images)
Workers install a field hospital in the Fair of Madrid, an exhibition centre, on Saturday to handle coronavirus patients © Getty

In Italy, which on Thursday overtook China to become the country with the highest number of deaths from the global Covid-19 outbreak, the government has enforced stricter measures to try to halt the spread of the virus.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte ordered all businesses, with the exception of those considered essential to supply chains, to close until April 3 as Italy faced its “most difficult crisis in our postwar period”, he said in a video message on social media on Saturday.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and postal service would remain open, Mr Conte said.

On Friday the government banned the last types of outdoor exercise Italians were able to do under the lockdown measures, by deciding that running and bicycle rides were no longer permitted.

The Italian military has been dispatched to Milan, the largest city in Lombardy, to ensure the lockdown measures are followed.

Over 223,633 people were inspected by the Italian police on Friday across the country, with almost 10,000 people reported for breaking the lockdown measures and 260 for false declarations about why they were outside, according to the Italian interior ministry.

Italian soldiers wearing protective masks work at a roadblock after Italy reinforced the lockdown measures to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Catania, Italy March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello
Italian soldiers wearing protective masks work at a roadblock after Italy reinforced the lockdown measures in Catania, Italy © Reuters

As Lombardy’s public health system comes under immense strain there are increasing signs that other regions are beginning to face a similar shortage of resources to deal with the outbreak. Many of those infected are healthcare workers.

On Saturday the Piedmont Medical Association wrote a letter to the Italian government urging it to provide the region with more assistance. “The situation is serious. In the next few days it will be dramatic,” it said.

The Italian government has scrambled to procure masks and other medical equipment, as well as calling for retired health workers to come back to assist and letting final year doctors graduate early to join the front line. Several large Italian companies, including the car companies Fiat and Ferrari, have begun plans to assist in the production line for ventilators.

Mr Conte said on Saturday that 3,500 retired or non-working Italian doctors had responded to an urgent request to be called into action.

The Italian air force has begun to ship large amounts of medical supplies sourced by the government from abroad, with 3m medical masks due to arrive from countries including Egypt and India, while 100 ventilators have been dispatched from China, according to Ansa, Italy’s national newswire.

Meanwhile, Mr Sánchez said Spain was increasing the number of coronavirus tests to 15,000 to 20,000 a day and had also stepped up the importation and manufacture of masks.

Get alerts on Coronavirus pandemic when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article