Italy’s death toll rises to 1809, Pope walks empty streets

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Pope Francis ventured into abandoned Rome to pray at two shrines for the end of the coronavirus pandemic, as Italy saw a massive fifth increase in deaths in a single day.

The country’s death toll rose 368 to 1809 on Sunday, a one-day record death rate and more than half of all cases recorded outside of China. The total number of cases rose to 24,747.

Leaders have warned of a lack of beds and artificial respirators in the European epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Milan’s Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana said the situation in areas around Italy’s financial capital is “getting worse”.

“We are close to the point where we can no longer revive people because we no longer have beds in the intensive care unit,” Fontana told Italian broadcaster Sky TG24.

“We need these devices (doctors) to ventilate the lungs, artificial respirators that we unfortunately cannot find.

“As soon as these breathing apparatuses arrive from abroad, we are ready to continue the attack.”

The Lombardy region has recorded 1218 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 in the past three weeks – more than the rest of Europe combined.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte insisted on Sunday that his government would “pay maximum attention” to the situation in the north.

His government should present a new contingency plan that is reported to include family support measures such as parental allowance and self-help.

The government said it was also talking to banks about suspending some family mortgage payments.

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The governor of the Venetian region of Veneto in the east also urged “everyone to remain isolated” so as not to further burden the hospitals.

“If you do not follow the rules, the health system will crash and I will have to impose a curfew,” warned the Venetian governor Luca Zaia.

Mayor of Milan Beppe Sala said he had managed to secure supplies of surgical masks from China to cover a growing shortage.

“Milan has always had excellent relationships with major Chinese cities, and I’ve made a few calls looking for masks in the past few days,” said the Mayor of Milan.

“The first delivery has arrived (Friday) and we will now distribute it to doctors and our employees.”

The European Commission also announced the upcoming delivery of one million masks from Germany.

The Vatican took a drastic step to cancel Easter week celebrations, which were to begin on April 5, when the country, with 60 million inhabitants, was prepared for an extended crisis.

For the first time, Easter services are held without the public.

Holy Week services, which begin on Palm Sunday, lead to Easter, the most important day of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the 1.3 billion members of the world.

Pope Francis left the Vatican unannounced to pray in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and then went down one of the main streets of Rome to visit the Church of San Marcello al Corso and to pray in front of a crucifix that was used as a procession the plague struck Rome in 1522.

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A Vatican statement said he had prayed for an end to the pandemic and also for the sick, their families, healthcare providers and workers who keep pharmacies and grocery stores across Italy open during a nationwide ban.

A picture of the Vatican showed the Pope and a small security detail on an empty Via del Corso, which is usually full of shoppers and people walking for Sunday.

Only occasional joggers and some locals carrying shopping bags were seen on the streets of Rome on a sunny afternoon of the first Italian weekend.

“I’m not really interested in what people tell us about religion,” said the retiree Roman after the Vatican announced that its Easter celebrations would “take place without the physical presence of the faithful.”

“I am interested in what people tell us about our health.”

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