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Italian military trucks drive through streets of Bergamo after the army were deployed to move coffins from the town. Image Credit: via REUTERS

London: Italy’s death toll from Covid-19 overtook that of China, where the virus first emerged, on Thursday as hospitals said they were being overwhelmed and the government prepared to prolong emergency lockdown measures.

A total 427 deaths were registered in Italy over the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 3,405 since the outbreak surfaced on February 21. China has recorded 3,245 deaths since early January.

However, Italy has far fewer confirmed cases — 41,035 as of Thursday against 80,907 in China.

“We’re working in a state of very high stress and tension,” said Daniela Confalonieri, a nurse at a hospital in Milan, the capital of the wealthy northern region of Lombardy, which has been the epicentre of the epidemic. “Unfortunately we can’t contain the situation in Lombardy. There’s a high level of contagion and we’re not even counting the dead any more.”

Underscoring the scale of the drama, soldiers transported bodies overnight from the northern town of Bergamo, northeast of Milan, whose cemetery has been overwhelmed.

An army spokesman said 15 trucks and 50 soldiers had been deployed to move coffins to neighbouring provinces. Earlier local authorities had appealed for help with cremations as their own crematorium could not cope with the huge workload.

“Look at the news that’s coming out of Italy and take note of what the situation really is like. It’s unimaginable,” said the Milan nurse, Confalonieri.

With almost 228,000 infections and more than 9,200 deaths, the epidemic has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with painful periods such as the Second World War, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.

UN chief warns of global recession

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that a global recession, “perhaps of record dimensions”, was a near certainty.

“This is a moment that demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies,” Guterres told reporters via a video conference. “We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.”

Schools, train stations to close in UK

Britain, which has reported 128 deaths, was closing dozens of underground stations in London and ordering schools shut from Friday.

Some 20,000 soldiers were on standby, Queen Elizabeth headed for sanctuary in the ancient castle of Windsor, and the Tower of London was to close along with other historic buildings.

“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe,” the 93-year-old monarch said in an address to the nation.

“I am certain we are up to that challenge. You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”

German town under lockdown

In Germany, which has reported 14,481 infections and 43 deaths, the military was also readying to help despite national sensitivities over its deployment dating back to the Nazi era.

The small Bavarian town of Mitterteich became the first in Germany to go into total lockdown. The 6,500 residents are forbidden from leaving their homes without a valid reason, giving a possible preview of what lies ahead for the rest of the country as many continue to defy confinement measures.

First death in Russia

Russia reported its first death s on Thursday, initially saying an elderly woman died of pneumonia before changing the cause of death to a blood clot.

The Moscow health department said the 79-year-old, who had tested positive for Covid-19, died in a Moscow hospital.

Svetlana Krasnova, head doctor at Moscow’s hospital No 2 for infectious diseases, said that the woman had been admitted with “a host of chronic diseases”, including type 2 diabetes and heart problems.

Infections in all 50 US states

The US, where President Donald Trump had initially played down the coronavirus threat, saw infections surpass 9,400 across all 50 states and deaths reach at least 151.

Trump has infuriated Beijing’s communist government by rebuking it for not acting faster and drawn accusations of racism by referring to the “Chinese virus”.

We continue our relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus,” he said in opening remarks at a briefing with his coronavirus task force on Thursday.

In Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro initially labelled the virus “a fantasy”, more members of the political elite fell ill. At night, housebound protesters banged pots and pans, shouting “Bolsonaro out!” from their windows.

Supermarkets in many countries were besieged with shoppers stocking up on food staples and hygiene products. Some rationed sales and fixed special hours for the elderly.

Solidarity projects were springing up in some of the world’s poorest corners.