CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) – Italy’s death toll from the global pandemic surpassed China’s on Thursday after 427 more people were killed by the novel coronavirus, authorities said.
Meanwhile, with the pandemic worsening, the U.S. State Department issued a warning Thursday against all international travel and told Americans to return home unless they plan to remain overseas.
The new deaths bring Italy’s total number of victims to 3,405, nearly 160 more than in China, where scientists believe the new virus emerged in humans in December and quickly spread in Wuhan, an industrial city in Hubei Province with more than 11 million inhabitants.
Italy is now the epicenter of the pandemic and it’s desperately fighting to contain the virus, known as Covid-19. It also has become a cautionary example of what other countries around the world may face.
Only a month ago Italy reported fewer than five cases and now more than 33,000 people have been found infected, most of them in northern Italy.
By Feb. 23, Italy reported more than 150 confirmed cases with clusters in about 10 towns in Lombardy and Veneto, two of the country’s most populated and richest regions.
After discovering the virus was established in these towns, authorities took what seemed at the time the dramatic step of locking down all the residents. Now, all of Italy is under a strict quarantine.
The infections continued to climb. By Feb. 28, Italy reported about 800 people had been infected. At the same time, more cases across Europe were being found.
As the outbreak worsened, Italy closed all its schools on March 5 when the disease had killed 197 people and more than 3,900 cases had been found. But the numbers of infections and dead continued to rise and Italy took the unprecedented step to place the whole country under lockdown on March 10.
It remains unclear how effective this draconian move will be in halting the disease’s spread. Despite tough fines, some people are disobeying the lockdown and there is some movement of people through the country. But the government says stopping normal life is the only strategy to stop the virus. Other countries in Europe and parts of the United States are following Italy’s lead.
Italy is following the example set by China. China and other Asian countries have become a success story in stopping the spread of virus through the use of aggressive lockdowns, isolation of infected individuals, widespread testing and hunting down potential carriers of the virus.
On Thursday, China reported for the first time no new cases of the virus were found domestically. The only new cases are from people arriving in China from elsewhere, Chinese authorities report.
China had its first death linked to the virus on Jan. 11. As the outbreak worsened, China cut Wuhan off from the rest of the world on Jan. 23. That lockdown is now being eased.
By Feb. 10, China’s death toll from Covid-19 reached 908 and surpassed that of the global SARS epidemic in 2002-2003. Like this pandemic, SARS was a respiratory disease caused by a different coronavirus. Scientists believe both viruses were transferred from animals, most likely bats, to humans.
By Feb. 10, there were more than 40,000 confirmed cases in China, most of them in Hubei. The number of confirmed cases continued to grow over the next two weeks to more than 80,000 and then leveled off. In all, China has reported 81,174 cases.
Italy is now in the middle of its own massive outbreak with surging deaths and infections. On Thursday, the country reported an increase of 4,480 confirmed cases. As in China, Italian scientists say the epidemic will peak eventually but there are concerns that other regions of Italy will see surges in deaths and infections.
Beyond Italy, the next worse country in Europe is Spain, which appears to be at the beginning of its own devastating outbreak. In the past two weeks, it’s reported a steady increase in infections and deaths. So far, 830 people in Spain have died and it has confirmed 17,960 cases.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.