Italian virus death toll nears China’s as outbreak spreads
Rome, Mar 19 : The Chinese city where the coronavirus first took hold reported no new homegrown cases Thursday, while the death toll in Italy was poised to overtake that of China in a dramatic illustration of how the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States.
The worldwide death toll crept toward 10,000 as the total number of infections topped 220,000, including nearly 85,000 people who had recovered.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe pleaded for 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. Italy, a country of 60 million, registered 2,978 deaths Wednesday after another 475 people died. Given that Italy has been averaging more than 350 deaths a day since March 15, it’s likely to overtake China’s 3,249 dead in a country of 1.4 billion when Thursday’s figures are released at day’s end.
UN and Italian health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large elderly population that is particularly susceptible to developing serious complications from the virus. Italy has the world’s second oldest population after Japan’s and the vast majority of Italy’s dead 87% were over age 70.
The American death toll rose to 149, primarily elderly people.
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 collapse of the health system in some parts.
“And then people die who wouldn’t have died with timely intervention,” he said. That’s what happens when the health system collapses. A total of 222,642 cases have been reported worldwide, with 9,115 deaths and 84,506 recoveries, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Aside from the elderly and the sick, most people only have mild or moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough.