Italy closes all non-essential business as rest of Europe hunkers down amid worsening coronavirus outbreak

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Italy entered the third week of a nationwide lockdown Sunday, closing all non-essential businesses, while the rest of Europe hunkered down amid a spike in coronavirus infections.

Italy’s death toll reached at least 4,825 people as of Sunday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, making it the worst-hit country in the world. At least 53,578 people have been infected.

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Just before midnight, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday announced new restrictions amid the lockdown, ordering all non-essential business to be closed during what he called the nation's gravest crisis since World War II.

“It is the most difficult crisis in our post-war period,” Conte said in a video posted on Facebook, according to Reuters, adding that “only production activities deemed vital for national production will be allowed.”

“We are slowing down the country’s production engine but we are not stopping it,” he said.

A view of the corridor outside the intensive care unit of the hospital of Brescia, Italy, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Italy has become the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing China by registering 3,405 dead. Italy reached the gruesome milestone on the same day the epicenter of the pandemic, Wuhan, China, recorded no new infections. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)

A view of the corridor outside the intensive care unit of the hospital of Brescia, Italy, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Italy has become the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing China by registering 3,405 dead. Italy reached the gruesome milestone on the same day the epicenter of the pandemic, Wuhan, China, recorded no new infections. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)

Grocery stores, pharmacies, postal and banking services, as well as essential public services, including transportation, will remain open, according to the emergency order that takes effect Sunday.

The COVID-19 death rate in Italy stands at roughly 8 percent, and experts have struggled to explain why the toll is higher than in other nations. Theories range from the aging population, differences in reporting methods between countries, the speed of infection, the high rate of smoking and heavy pollution in the hardest-hit area in the north.

The death toll in China, where the virus originated in late December and where the contagion rate has started to slow, stood at 3,144, with at least 81,394 confirmed cases, on Sunday morning.

Reaching a new milestone Saturday, Spain rose to third in the worldwide rankings of coronavirus infections,  just behind China and Italy, after recording more than 5,000 new cases within a 24-hour period.

Spain’s death toll reached 1,720 on Sunday morning, with at least 28,572 confirmed cases.

Following Italy's lead, Spain implemented its own nationwide lockdown last week, declaring a state of emergency in which movement is tightly restricted. People can only leave their homes to buy food, seek health care, respond to emergencies or work in essential industries. The government has also taken over private healthcare facilities in the country, requisitioning masks, ventilators and other medical supplies.

Europe is the new epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.

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Many European manufacturers have begun retooling production to assist with the response to the outbreak.

Spanish fashion retailer Zara has begun sourcing material to manufacture masks and hospital gowns, the Guardian reported. Givenchy and Christian Dior, both perfume manufacturers, as well as alcohol brands Absolut Vodka and Brewdog, have begun producing hand sanitizers at their facilities.

Meggitt, an aerospace company based in the United Kingdom, has started an initiative to produce tens of thousands of respiratory ventilators. And companies, including McLaren, Dyson, Airbus, Vauxhall, Jaguar Land Rover, Renishaw and JCB have offered staff, floor space and expertise to help fight the crisis.

Fernando Simón, the Spanish health emergency coordinator, said authorities expect infections to get worse before the drastic measures can reverse the trend.

Spanish Civil Guard officers at a checkpoint to stop drivers from trying to leave the city, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, March 21, 2020. For many people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it causes more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Spanish Civil Guard officers at a checkpoint to stop drivers from trying to leave the city, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, March 21, 2020. For many people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it causes more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

He said that in some Madrid hospitals, doctors working in intensive care units were inundated with so many patients that they had to be “a little more selective” about who to treat first -- as has happened in Italy.

Intensive care units in the Spanish capital were working at double the normal capacity, regional health authorities said.

The Spanish Navy had to intervene in a residential home in Cadiz in southern Spain after 20 members who were looking after the elderly residents were diagnosed with coronavirus.

Spain's left-wing coalition government promised an extra $323 million in aid for health authorities to help provide resources to safeguard the elderly in care homes.

The army and police have been deployed on the streets in cities across the country to enforce the lockdown. Nevertheless, police in Madrid have fined 3,000 people for flouting the restrictions. Citizens are required to carry passports or identification cards, as well as proof they are going shopping or seeking medical care.

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Though at least 22,364 people in Germany were infected, only 84 people have died from coronavirus as of Sunday morning. That’s comparable to France, where 562 people have died, and 14,459 people were infected. In the United Kingdom, 233 people have died, with 5,018 infected.

Fox News’ Amy Kellogg and Graham Keeley contributed to this report.