Italy’s coronavirus death toll rockets to 197 in largest daily increase

Italy's coronavirus death toll has risen from 49 to 197 in the largest daily increase in fatalities since the deadly virus was uncovered two weeks ago.

The government this week ordered the closure of schools, universities, cinemas and theatres around the country to try to stem the infections as Italy is currently reporting more deaths from the virus than any other nation in the world.

And the nation's sporting calendar is in disarray. The Alpine skiing World Cup finals in Italy's Cortina d'Ampezzo were cancelled on Friday, while a Formula E race scheduled for Rome on April 4 will not now take place, the all-electric series announced on Friday.

Italy has been hardest hit of all European nations by the epidemic, which broke out in China.

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The total cases today hit 4,636 compared with 3,858 on Thursday, Italy's Civil Protection Agency said today.

The Vatican, which is an independent state that sits in the heart of Rome, also registered its first case on Friday.

The national health institute said the average age of those who had died so far was 81, with the vast majority suffering underlying health problems.

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Just 28 per cent were women.

The death rate from the illness in Italy, which has one of the oldest populations in the world, is running at 4.25 per cent, higher than in most other countries.

In a worrying sign for hard-pressed hospitals, the number of patients in intensive care rose more than 30 per cent on Friday to 462.

Some 523 people have fully recovered, authorities said, an increase of 26 per cent on the previous tally.

Analysts say the crisis will push Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years. Credit ratings agency Moody’s on Friday cut its growth forecast for the country to -0.5% in 2020, from a previous +0.5% estimate.

Underscoring the economic concerns, the Milan stock exchange fell 3.5 per cent on Friday and is now down 17.4% since news of the first case was announced on Feb. 21.

The tourism sector, which accounts for 13 per cent of national output, has suffered the hardest immediate hit, with visitors shunning the country out of fear of infection.

The Czech Republic said on Friday that anyone returning from trips to Italy would have to go into quarantine for two weeks or face fines, while neighboring Slovakia said it was banning all flights to and from Italy.

Rome has previously denounced such moves to isolate the country.

There is also widespread annoyance with France, Germany and other EU allies who have imposed curbs on the export of protective medical gear to avoid shortages at home.

“So much for the European Union,” said Matteo Salvini, head of the opposition, far-right League party.

“When Italy needs help, doors are closed and wallets shut. Once the health emergency is over, it will be necessary to rethink and rebuild everything, starting from Brussels.”

Italy’s sporting world is also facing unprecedented turmoil.

The Milan-Sanremo one-day cycle race set for later this month has also been canceled as well as two other cycling events in Italy.

Top flight Serie A soccer matches are due to be played this weekend, but behind closed doors.

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