Italy’s world-topping coronavirus death toll shot past 10,000 on Saturday and showed few sign of slowing down.
The 889 new fatalities reported by the civil protection service came a day after the nation of 60 million registered a world record 969 deaths on Friday.
Its toll from the past three days alone reached 2,520 — higher than the total number of deaths in either the United States or France.
Italians began to experience hope when their daily death and infection rates began to slow on March 22.
The sudden new surge is offset — if only slightly — by rare positive news from the pandemic’s epicentre in northern Lombardy region around Milan.
Official figures showed the number of people receiving intensive care treatment in the region’s hospitals barely changed from Friday.
“Our hospitals are starting to breathe,” Lombardy’s chief medical officer Giulio Gallera said.
“Little by little, they are starting to breathe again.”
– European bickering –
The once-in-a-century pandemic has triggered a huge row among European leaders about how best to respond.
The nations most hit by the pandemic are urging the European Union to abandon its policy of keeping within tight budget constraints.
The bloc has already untied its purse strings in ways not seen since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte argues that this is not enough.
France is backing a push by Italy and Spain for the EU to start issuing “corona bonds” — a form of common debt that governments sell on markets to raise money and address individual economic needs.
More spendthrift nations such as Germany and the Netherlands are balking at the idea of joint debt.
Conte said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had “not just a disagreement but a hard a frank confrontation” on Thursday about how to proceed.
“If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’etre (reason for existing) to the people,” Conte told Saturday’s edition of the Il Sole 24 Ore financial newspaper.
– ‘Different from 2008’ –
The entire eurozone is expected to slip into a recession over the coming months.
But Italy is facing the threat of a near economic collapse after being the first European country to shutter almost all its businesses on March 12.
Some forecasts suggest that its economy — the third-largest among nations that use the euro common currency — could contract by as much as seven percent this year.
It shrank by 5.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2009.
Conte warned that EU leaders were in danger of making “tragic mistakes” that “leave our children the immense burden of a devastated economy.”
“I represent a country that is suffering a lot and I cannot afford to procrastinate,” Conte said.
The energetic 55-year-old has seen his popularity shoot up thanks to a general sense that he was doing all he could to help the country through its worst crisis since World War II.
A growing number of medics are warning that Italy’s fatalities could be much higher because retirement homes often do not report all their coronavirus deaths.
The number of people who have died from the new disease at home is unknown.
“This is something very different from the 2008 crisis,” Conte said.
“We are at a critical point in European history.”