Italian death toll overtakes China's as coronavirus spreads
ROME — The death toll in Italy from the coronavirus overtook China’s on Thursday in a stark illustration of how the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States.
Italy, with a population of 60 million, recorded at least 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China — a country with a population over 20 times larger.
Italy reached the bleak milestone the same day that Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections, a sign that the communist country's draconian lockdowns were a powerful method to stop the virus' spread.
On Thursday, a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticized Italians' failure to properly quarantine themselves and take the national lockdown seriously.
Meanwhile, the damage to the world's largest economy kept piling up, with unemployment claims surging in the United States, while the virus appeared to be opening an alarming new front in Africa, where in less than three weeks it has spread to 35 countries.
The epidemic has also now reached at least one European head of state, 62-year-old Prince Albert II of the tiny principality of Monaco. The palace announced that he tested positive for the virus but was continuing to work from his office and was being treated by doctors from Princess Grace Hospital, named after his American actress mother.
In the U.S., Congress rushed to pass a $1 trillion emergency package to shore up the sinking economy and help households pull through the crisis, with the first of two possible rounds of relief checks consisting of payments of $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child.
The worldwide death toll crept toward 10,000 as the total number of infections topped 220,000, including nearly 85,000 people who have recovered.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe pleaded with people to keep their distance from one another to avoid spreading the virus, even as the crisis pushed them to seek comfort.
“When you love someone, you should avoid taking them in your arms,” he said in Parliament. “It's counterintuitive, and it's painful. The psychological consequences, the way we are living, are very disturbing — but it's what we must do.”
The American death toll rose to 160, primarily elderly people.
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, though severe cases have also been seen in younger patients. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87% — were over 70.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany's Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, said Italy's high death rate could be explained in part by the almost total breakdown of the health system in some areas.
“That's what happens when the health system collapses,” he said.
On a visit to the northern city of Milan, 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 and eating out.
Sun Shuopeng said Wuhan saw infections peak only after a month of a strictly enforced lockdown.
“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.”
Aside from the elderly and the sick, most people have mild or moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough, and most recover in a matter of weeks.