Italian authorities voiced growing concern on Sunday over how much longer strained health systems could cope with the coronavirus outbreak, as thousands of new cases were recorded over the past 24 hours and several hundred more people died.

While the virus has begun spreading rapidly across Europe, Italy remains the second most heavily affected country after China, where the illness first emerged, and the outbreak has shown no signs of slowing.

The government is working urgently on procuring more protective equipment, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, adding there was maximum attention on helping Lombardy, the northern region where the virus emerged three weeks ago.

“Our priority is to keep doctors, nurses and all our health personnel safe,” Conte said in a statement.

A week ago, his government, which is expected to confirm a 25 billion euro (US$27.68 billion) package of measures to support businesses and workers hit by the crisis, imposed a virtual lockdown across the country.

With 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths by Sunday – a rise of 368 in the death toll in just 24 hours – Italy’s experience has offered an alarming example for other European countries which have begun seeing sharp rises in cases over recent days.

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