By Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s coronavirus death toll soared on Friday and regions imposed new restrictions in an increasingly desperate effort to halt infections, with one banning walks in parks and another prohibiting jogging and bike rides.
“We already have many hundreds of dead. What more is needed before people understand the tragedy we are facing?” said Sergio Venturi, head of the coronavirus response team in the wealthy northern region of Emilia-Romagna.
The national death toll from the outbreak over the past 24 hours leapt by 627 to 4,032 – by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago.
Italy overtook China on Thursday as the country to register the most deaths from the virus. Before Friday, it had never recorded more than 475 fatalities in a single day.
The total number of cases climbed to 47,021 from a previous 41,035, the Civil Protection Agency said.
“Maybe the peak won’t come next week, but the week after,” Civil Protection chief Angelo Borrelli told Rai radio.
Responding to the growing crisis, the northern region of Veneto shut parks and said residents could no longer go for walks, while adjacent Emilia-Romagna banned jogging and bicycle rides, saying people had to stay indoors to prevent infections.
Lombardy, at the epicenter of the epidemic, said about 100 soldiers would soon be deployed to help local police enforce the lockdown, and called on the government to impose new measures to keep Italians at home.
Officials are especially worried by the situation in Lombardy’s capital and Italy’s second city, Milan.
The country’s largest cities had so far been relatively lightly hit by the outbreak, but there are now 3,804 people infected in the financial hub and its hinterland.
The number of new cases in and around Milan rose by 526, or 16%, the largest daily increase for any province in Lombardy.
“The frontline is now in Milan,” Massimo Galli, head of the infectious diseases unit at the city’s Sacco hospital, told La Repubblica newspaper. “I am extremely worried by what is happening … there are still too many people out and about.”
The government last week ordered restaurants, bars and most shops to shut down nationwide until March 25. In addition, it shut schools and universities and told everyone to stay at home for all but absolutely essential needs until April 3.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday the measures would have to be extended, but gave no further details.
Looking to boost morale, all Italian radio stations, for the first time, simultaneously broadcast the national anthem at 11.00 a.m. (1000 GMT), followed by three iconic songs, “Azzurro,” “La canzone del sole” and “Nel blu dipinto di blu”.
However, the national mood has grown gloomier this week as the death toll has risen inexorably.
“It feels like we are in another world. I don’t know, it is a really bad feeling. I hope it will finish soon because really, this it is not good,” said Rome resident Anna Marcotullio, 53.
(Reporting by Cristiano Corvino, Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones in Rome, Elisa Anzolin in Milan, Stephen Jewkes in Bologna, and Riccardo Bastianello in Veneto; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)