ITALY has seen coronavirus deaths surge by 475, the highest daily increase yet recorded since the disease took hold of the country.
Doctors there have warned the country is facing a “catastrophic” situation as the virus spirals out of control with the number of deaths hitting 2,978.
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Wednesday also saw a record high in the number of infections with more than 4,200 new cases, bringing the total to 35,713.
The rapid increase in deaths comes despite Italy imposing a draconian lockdown, a situation the UK is moving towards with the closure of schools.
Italy is set to overtake China, where the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged late last year and which has seen 3,241 deaths, most in the hard-hit central province of Hubei.
Italy has an older population than China’s, but only has 60 million people to China’s 1.4 billion people.
Medical experts say the new virus is killing people over 65 at a much higher rate than other age groups.
Italy’s doctors have described patients who would normally be in intensive care having to be left on wards without the equipment or staff to properly treat them.
Among the hospitals struggling to cope is the 950-bed Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in the affluent city of Bergamo.
It is in the region of Lombardy in the north, which was the first region in the country to be locked down as the crisis first got underway.
Almost half the hospital’s beds are currently occupied by coronavirus patients, and three of its four most senior staff are currently at home ill.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, an intensive care specialist Mirco Nacoti at the hospital, said: “Until three weeks ago, we did everything for every patient.
“Now we have to choose which patients to put in intensive care. This is catastrophic.”
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To add to the misery, it has now emerged one of first people struck down by coronavirus has tested positive again days after being given the all-clear by medics.
The unnamed 40-year-old – who is Turin’s so-called patient number one – has been closely monitored by doctors for weeks.
He has been quarantined inside the city’s Amedeo di Savoia Hospital after being diagnosed with the virus last month.
The patient was just about to be sent home after testing negative for the killer infection, say reports.
However, a control test then found he was still positive- meaning he will have to remain in hospital lockdown.
Among those to have died in the past 24 hours was a patient with no underlying health conditions.