Italy has recorded its biggest one day rise in coronavirus deaths, amid growing concern about the ability of its strained health system to cope with the increase in new cases.
With 1,809 deaths by Sunday - a rise of 368 in just 24 hours - Italy's experience has offered an alarming example for other European countries.
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 appeared just over three weeks ago.
"Our priority is to keep doctors, nurses and all our health personnel safe," Conte said in a statement a week after his government imposed a virtual lockdown across the country in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Italy has the most elderly population in Europe, with almost a quarter aged 65 and over, rendering it especially vulnerable to the disease.
The health systems in Lombardy and other regions such as Emilia Romagna and Veneto have been pushed to their limits.
"The numbers have continued to grow. We're close to the moment where we will have no more intensive care beds," Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana said in a television interview.
Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri confirmed the government's planned economic support package would total some 25 billion euros ($A45 billion) and said it would ensure companies and workers were helped through the crisis.
He said the package would provide extra funding for the health system as well as a mix of measures to help companies and households including freezing tax and loan payments and boosting unemployment benefits to ensure no jobs were lost.
"The big challenge will be to see how far we can succeed in keeping Milan, the metropolitan area, away from a mass phenomenon with the disease," said Massimo Galli, head of the infectious diseases unit at the city's Sacco hospital.
Authorities have been working to set up hundreds of intensive care beds in a specially created facility in the Fiera Milano exhibition centre but are still waiting for sufficient respirators and qualified personnel.
There's also a looming worry over the much less well-equipped south, where tens of thousands of people have arrived from the affected regions.
© RAW 2020