Cemetery workers and funeral agency workers in protective masks transport a coffin of a person who died from coronavirus disease (COVID-19), into a cemetery in Bergamo, Italy Image Credit: Reuters

Europe surpassed China in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths as Italy reported its deadliest day.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Europe's total of more than 85,000 infections exceeds China's 80,900. Europe has also reported just under 4,000 deaths from Covid-19, compared with about 3,200 in China. Italy's death count alone is 2,978.

On Wednesday, Italy reported 475 deaths from the virus. That's the highest death toll reported in a day by any country since the virus originated in Wuhan, China, late last year. China recorded its highest single-day death toll of 150 on Feb 23.

With few signs that the march of the pathogen is slowing in Europe, countries across the region are struggling to cope with what has turned into the deadliest pandemic in more than a century.

Across Europe, schools and universities have been closed; lockdowns have become commonplace; non-essential businesses like cinemas, gyms, clubs, bars and restaurants have been shut; and companies have asked employees to work from home wherever possible.

Chancellor Angela Merkel used a rare television address to urge Germans to abide by restrictions bringing social life to a standstill, calling the pandemic the country's greatest challenge since World War II.

"This is serious - and you need to take it seriously," Merkel said in a somber tone during a speech delivered to the nation on Wednesday evening. "There has been no such challenge to our country since German reunification "" no, since World War II."

Meanwhile, euro-area officials are looking at activating the region's bailout fund, a crucial step toward triggering the European Central Bank's most potent bond-buying powers. That's as government bond yields spiral, intensifying pressure on countries with strained public finances like Italy and Spain.

For its part, France's financial regulators helped banks including Societe Generale SA and Credit Agricole SA respond to the virus crisis by eliminating a key capital requirement to keep credit flowing.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country's schools will close from Friday. Johnson didn't rule out imposing tighter controls on London as his government seeks to clamp down on the pandemic. The number of infections in the country jumped 35% on Wednesday to 2,626.

Number of infected in Europe as of March 18, 2020
Italy (31506), Spain (11178), France (7730), Germany (7156), Switzerland (2650), United Kingdom (1950), Netherlands (1705), Austria (1332), Norway (1308), Belgium (1243), Sweden (1167), Denmark (1024), Portugal (448), Czech Republic (434), Greece (387), Finland (319), Ireland (292), Slovenia (275), Iceland (247), Poland (238), Estonia (225), Romania (217), Luxembourg (140), Russia (114), San Marino (104), Turkey (98), Slovakia (97), Bulgaria (81), Armenia (78), Serbia (72), Croatia (69), Latvia (61), Albania (55), Hungary (50), Cyprus (40), Malta (38), Belarus (36), Georgia (34), North Macedonia (31), Moldova (30), Azerbaijan (28), Lithuania (25), Bosnia and Herzegovina (21), Kosovo (19), Andorra (14), Ukraine (14), Monaco (9), Liechtenstein (7), Montenegro (2) and Holy See (1).

Germany extended inner-European border checks to air travel. Effective immediately, the country will instate border controls for arrivals from Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark via air and maritime travel in addition to land borders, the German interior ministry said in an emailed statement.

In one small, hopeful sign, the rise in the number of active cases in Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, slowed to 10%, the weakest gain in over a week.

While there are tentative indications that the contagion in the country might be nearing its peak, authorities remain cautious. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is mulling extending the nationwide lockdown beyond April 3, its scheduled end, and the government might also ban outdoor activities like jogging.