By Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has risen by 49 to 197, the Civil Protection Agency said on Friday, the largest daily increase in fatalities since the contagion was uncovered two weeks ago.
Italy is currently reporting more deaths per day from the virus than any other country in the world and the government this week ordered the closure of schools, universities, cinemas and theaters around the country to try to stem the infections.
The cumulative number of cases in the country, which has been the hardest hit in Europe by the epidemic, totaled 4,636 compared with 3,858 on Thursday.
China, where the outbreak began, had 80,711 confirmed cases and 3,045 cumulative cases, 30 of them reported on Friday by the World Health Organisation.
The Vatican, an independent state that sits in the heart of Rome, 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. Just 28% were women.
The fatality rate from the illness in Italy, which has one of the oldest populations in the world, is running at 4.25%, 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% on Friday to 462. On a more positive note, some 523 people have fully recovered, authorities said, an increase of 26% 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% 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% 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 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.
The Milan-Sanremo one-day cycle race set for later this month has also been cancelled 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.
(Additional reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Jonathan Oatis)