The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Italy leapt by 627 on Friday to 4,032, officials said, an increase of 18.4 percent, which is the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago.
On Thursday, Italy, a country with 60 million citizens, recorded more deaths from the coronavirus than China, the source of the epidemic with a population over 20 times larger.
Until Friday, Italy had never recorded more than 475 deaths in a single day, while China, where the contagion has slowed sharply, has never reported more than 150.
The total number of cases in Italy rose to 47,021 from a previous 41,035, an increase of 14.6 percent, the Civil Protection Agency said.
The mayor of the most badly affected city, Bergamo in the affluent northern region of Lombardy, said the true number of fatalities from the pandemic in his area was four times higher than was officially reported so far.
"Many of the elderly are dying in their houses or in old people's homes, without anyone testing them either before or after they die," Giorgio Gori told the Huffington Post.
He added that a dozen mayors of other cities had confirmed the same thing to him.
The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remains in a critical situation, with 2,549 deaths and 22,264 cases.
Of those originally infected nationwide, 5,129 had fully recovered on Friday compared to 4,440 the day before. There were 2,655 people in intensive care against a previous 2,498.
Military can be used to enforce lockdown
Earlier Friday, the Italian government announced that the military can be used to help enforce the lockdown, the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, told a news conference.
"[The request to use the army] has been accepted... and 114 soldiers will be on the ground throughout Lombardy... it is still too little, but it is positive," Fontana said. "Unfortunately we are not seeing a change of trend in the numbers, which are rising."
Meanwhile Italy's health ministry on Friday approved new measures to limit people's movements, including closing down parks and public gardens.
From Saturday, people will only be allowed to take exercise around their homes, said a health ministry directive. Games and recreational activities in the open air will also be prohibited.
"We must do even more to contain the contagion," Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that the lockdown measures would be extended beyond their original April 3 deadline. Italy enforced a nationwide lockdown on March 9 after the epidemic was determined to have reached the community transmission stage.
One factor in the high death toll so far is the high median age in Italy, which is 47 years, compared to 37 in China and 38 in the US. As a percentage of the total population, Italy has more people over the age of 80, 90 or 100 than any other major industrialised country except Japan.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)