MORE than 13,600 people have died as a result of the coronavirus and almost 316,000 cases have been confirmed globally, researchers at John Hopkins University in the United States revealed last night.

According to the same report, people in about 150 countries have tested positive for the virus while some 93,800 people have recovered, mostly in China.

Italy has the highest number of recorded deaths – 4825 – while the US has reported soaring new death tolls as the pandemic sweeps across the globe.

Italy yesterday announced its biggest day-to-day increase of infections, rising to 53,000 people, with nearly 800 new deaths. As bodies piled up in Italian hospitals, morgues and churches, and as medical workers pleaded for more help, there was no sign that Italy was yet slowing the contagion.

The new Italian figures have prompted a scramble in hard-hit regions to set up more hospital beds and replenish the dwindling medical supplies needed to keep health workers safe.

Premier Giuseppe Conte went on live TV to announce he was tightening the country’s lockdown and shutting down all production facilities except those providing essential goods and services.

“We are facing the most serious crisis that the country has experienced since the Second World War,” Conte said during a broadcast at midnight.

He cautioned citizens to be calm and patient, insisting there was “no alternative” than to impose further restrictions.

During his weekly Sunday blessing, Pope Francis urged all Christians to join in reciting the Our Father prayer next Wednesday at noon.

“To the virus pandemic, we want to respond with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness,” the Pope said.

Francis, who began streaming his audiences earlier this month due to virus concerns, said he would also lead a global blessing to an empty St Peter’s Square on Friday.

In Spain, Europe’s hardest-hit country after Italy, intensive care units in some areas were close to their limits even before Sunday’s new tally of 28,572 infections and 1720 deaths.

The army is building a field hospital with 5500 beds in a convention centre in Madrid, where hotels are also being turned into wards for virus patients without serious breathing problems.

In the US, where several states have ordered residents to stay indoors, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the government was “literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies”.

Nationwide, there were 26,747 cases and 340 deaths as the US overtook Germany as the country with the fourth-highest number of cases.

Meanwhile, Wuhan – the Chinese city where the global pandemic was first detected and which was the first to be locked down – went a fourth consecutive day yesterday without reporting any new or suspected cases.

Parks and other public gathering places are reopening in China as people return to work and businesses resume, but the country has placed increasing restrictions on those coming from overseas. All arrivals to Beijing from abroad must quarantine themselves for two weeks in a hotel at their own expense.

Australia yesterday unveiled a 66.4 billion Australian dollar (£33bn) stimulus package in a bid to ward off a recession and safeguard employment from the coronavirus pandemic. The package includes cash payments for eligible small businesses and benefits recipients. The total economic assistance packages so far totals almost 10% of the country’s GDP.

Australia has recorded more than 1000 cases of the virus as fears grow that it is heading for its first recession in nearly three decades. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “We want to help businesses keep going as best they can, or to pause instead of falling apart. We want to ensure that when this crisis has passed Australia can bounce back.”

Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach was closed on Saturday after thousands of people flouted regulations that prohibit more than 500 people gathering.

In the Middle East, the Palestinian Health Ministry has announced the first two cases of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.

The ministry said early yesterday that the cases were two people who returned recently from Pakistan.

As the coronavirus infects more people around the world, conservationists are warning of the risk to another vulnerable species: Africa’s mountain gorilla.

Congo’s Virunga National Park said it was barring visitors until June, citing advice from scientific experts indicating that primates, including mountain gorillas, could be susceptible to Covid-19 complications.