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Italy sees death spike, is 2nd country to pass Chinese virus case total

Deaths surged in Spain and Italy on Friday, troubling new outbreak sites bubbled in the United States, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first leader of a major country to test positive for the coronavirus that has sickened more than a half-million people worldwide.

Italy recorded its single biggest rise in deaths, with 969 more victims, to bring its total number of fatalities to 9,134. The country now has 86,498 cases, surpassing China to record the grim distinction of the second-most infections in the world, behind the US.

With numbers rising in the US, though, the grim distinction could be temporary.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported another 7,800 infections overnight for a total of 64,059. Deaths climbed by 769 to 4,858 — the world’s second highest total after Italy’s 8,214 fatalities.

Spain says 9,444 health workers have contracted the coronavirus. That’s nearly 15% of the total number of cases.

“It’s true that we have more deaths than what we saw yesterday, but it’s also true that the percentage increase today is similar to that of he past three days and it appears there is a stabilization,” said Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center.

The US now has 85,996 confirmed cases, and Italy was set to pass China’s 81,782 infections later Friday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The three countries account nearly half the world’s more than 550,000 infections and more than half of the roughly 25,000 reported virus deaths.

Analysts warned that all those infection figures could be low for reasons that varied in each nation.

“China numbers can’t be trusted because the government lies,” American political scientist Ian Bremmer, president of the Euraisa Group think-tank, said in a tweet. “US numbers can’t be trusted because the government can’t produce enough tests.”

Italian epidemiologists warn that the country’s numbers are likely much higher than reported — perhaps by five times — although two weeks into a nationwide lockdown the daily increase seems to be slowing, at least in northern Italy.

“It’s a horrible sensation, not being able to breathe,” said Fausto Russo, a 38-year-old fitness trainer who is one of 10,000 Italians whose infection has been cured. “Imagine putting your head under water.”

In a phone call Friday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Trump that China “understands the United States’ current predicament over the COVID-19 outbreak and stands ready to provide support within its capacity,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Trump, who has repeatedly referred to the outbreak as a “Chinese virus,” struck a different tone, tweeting after the call that “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”

The pandemic appears to have peaked in China, even while the government remains on guard against imported cases. Beijing is sending medical teams and equipment abroad, especially to Europe. But it has strongly protested U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated references to the outbreak as the “Wuhan Flu,” saying that promotes bias against China and Chinese Americans.

Header: Coffins arriving from the Bergamo area, where the coronavirus infections caused many victims, are being unloaded from a military truck that transported them in the cemetery of Cinisello Balsamo, near Milan in Northern Italy, Friday, March 27, 2020. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)