Italy is in crisis, as it often has been. The epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic has shifted from China, where it germinated, to Italy which now grapples with a staggering toll, one that has surpassed China’s over the weekend and continues to mount. With gasping patients filling the wards of northern hospitals, the southern regions have admitted that they are unprepared for the huge pressure on the country’s health system, especially hitting the poor.

Alone in Europe, Italy has buckled under the strain. It could be shocking on the face of it but nonetheless is true that central to the exceptional surge is the woeful wherewithal, exemplified by lack of equipment, low capacity in the hospitals in the poorer south compared to the richer north.

This is almost a reflection of the appalling conditions in India’s state hospitals Indeed, fears that Covid-19 could be devastating for the south if it is unable to cope with the expected escalation in the number of cases are dangerously real. Which explains the SOS advanced by doctors for testing to be increased in the south.

Furthermore, the level of contagion among the country’s medical personnel has been rising with at least 2,629 health workers reportedly infected by the virus since the outbreak began in February, representing 8.3 per cent of total cases.

The ever so alarming rise has been registered despite the fact that the government in Rome placed the country under lockdown on March 9 and tightened the rules on March 11, leaving those in hospitals to die sometimes without even a final goodbye to loved ones.

As the toll surged in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be extended beyond April 3. France also mooted extending its two-week lockdown ordered this week by President Emmanuel Macron.

After three months, the nub of the crisis is pretty obvious ~ the outbreak has over the past week shifted from China towards Europe and the United States, where California is the most acutely affected. Spain has been the hardest hit European country after Italy. With a population of 60 million, Italy has long overtaken China, a country that has 20 times more people, in terms of fatalities.

But whereas the Communist country’s draconian lockdowns were a powerful method to stop the spread of the virus, it is cause for alarm that a visiting Chinese Red Cross team has criticised the failure of Italians to quarantine themselves and thus take the national lockdown seriously.

Having been the source of the scourge, there is little doubt that China has fared better in addressing it. For the second day on Friday, there were no new domestic cases since the virus appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide.

While there was a glimmer of hope in China, more countries tightened their borders and imposed lockdowns as the U.N. chief warned “millions” could die if the virus goes unchecked around the globe. It is still far from being contained.