Italy's lockdown will have to be extended beyond the current end-date of April 3, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Thursday as its daily death toll spiked.
Speaking to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Conte said measures taken to close schools and universities and to restrict movement throughout Italy would have to be prolonged.
"The total blockade will go on," Conte said. "The measures taken, both the closure of (public) activities and the ones concerning schools, can only be extended," he told the paper.
Conte's comments confirm speculation that the government would extend its current national lockdown further as the coronavirus outbreak in Italy worsens.
Under the lockdown rules, people can only leave their homes to get food or medicines (grocery stores and pharmacies are the only stores that remain open), or to perform other essential services or to go to work. Most shops had been forced to close until March 25 but that deadline also looks set to be extended.
However, Italy's interior ministry said Wednesday that 43,000 people been caught breaking the lockdown rules in the first week of controls, with a million people being checked since March 11, when most public places closed.
Italy's tally of coronavirus cases and deaths jumped Wednesday; 2,978 have now died from coronavirus in Italy, 475 more than Tuesday.
The data, from Italy's Civil Protection agency and corroborated by a tally by Johns Hopkins University, marked a record increase in the number of daily deaths. On Tuesday, there had been 345 more deaths from the previous day.
The total number of confirmed cases across the country also continues to rise dramatically; as of Wednesday, 35,713 people in Italy had tested positive for coronavirus (this number includes deaths and those that have recovered from the disease). The number of infections was up 2,648 from Tuesday.
Hospitals in Italy's Lombardy, the epicenter of the country's coronvirus outbreak, are reaching the point where they may not be able to treat any new cases of the virus.
Medical facilities in Lombardy will "soon" be unable to help new coronavirus cases, regional Gov. Attilio Fontana said Wednesday, as he urged everyone to stay at home.
"Unfortunately the numbers of the contagion are not falling, they continue to be high," he said. "We will soon be unable to give a response to those who fall ill," news agency ANSA reported. "Stay at home: If you don't understand that we'll have to be more aggressive."
The wealthy region in northern Italy is home to Italy's financial hub, Milan, and is where Italy's coronavirus epidemic started. It remains the region worst affected by the virus, by far. There are now 12,266 positive cases in Lombardy, followed by 3,915 cases in Emilia-Romagna and 2,953 in Veneto, according to data Wednesday from Italy's Civil Protection agency.