Italy, with 60 million citizens, recorded a total of at least 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China, a country with a population over 20 times larger.
At the same time, Italy reached its bleak milestone, Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections, a sign that the communist country’s draconian lockdowns had worked.
As of Thursday night, there were also an estimated 41,000 infections in Italy.
Health authorities cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large population of elderly people, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus.
Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead – 87 percent – were over 70.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, offered another reason for Italy’s high death rate: “That’s what happens when the health system collapses.”
As the outbreak spread westward, it infected at least one European head of state: Monaco’s 62-year-old Prince Albert II, who continued to work from his office.
In Spain, the government on Thursday ordered the closure of all the country’s hotels and promised to implement special measures in nursing homes after a surge in the country’s coronavirus cases and deaths.
Officials reported deaths had jumped by more than a third on Thursday to 767, while the number of cases rose by a quarter to 17,149, making Spain the second worst-hit country in Europe after Italy.
The virus also appears to be opening an alarming new front in Africa, where healthcare in many countries is already struggling.
At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is “at war with a virus” and warned that “a global recession, perhaps of record dimensions, is a near certainty.”
“If we let the virus spread like wildfire – especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world – it would kill millions of people,” he said.
In a measure of how the fortunes of East and West have shifted, officials from the city of New York were sent to China to buy more ventilators.
And in Italy, the leader of a delegation from the Chinese Red Cross openly castigated Italians for failing to take the country’s national lockdown seriously.
On a visit to the hard-hit city of Milan, Sun Shuopeng said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transportation and eating out in hotels.
“Right now we need to stop all economic activity, and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said.
“All people should be staying at home in quarantine.”
Worldwide the death toll crept towards 10,000 and the total number of infections topped 240,000, including nearly 85,000 people who have recovered.
In China, Thursday marked the first time since Jan. 20 that the locked-down city of Wuhan, where thousands once lay sick or dying in hurriedly constructed hospitals, reported no new locally transmitted cases. Authorities said all 34 new cases recorded over the previous day had come from abroad.
“Today, we have seen the dawn after so many days of hard effort,” said Jiao Yahui, a senior inspector at the National Health Commission.
The World Health Organization warned, though, that the virus is spreading quickly in Africa, from about five countries a week and a half ago to 35 of the continent’s 54 nations – an “extremely rapid evolution,” said WHO Africa chief Dr Matshidiso Moeti.