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When asked by reporters about Italy’s high mortality rate compared to the rest of the world, one official pushed back, suggesting that the underlying medical conditions of some of those diagnosed may have contributed to their deaths.
The official speculated that other countries may not be including patients with already-existing illnesses in their coronavirus death tolls.
The number of people to have died from coronavirus in Italy surpassed on Thursday that of China, where the disease originated.
Some 3,253 people have died in China since the virus first emerged late last year; Italy's outbreak only came to light on Feb. 21.
The World Health Organization last week named Europe the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Since March 9, Italy has been under a nationwide lockdown meant to help curb the spread of the virus by effectively shutting down most aspects of public life.
Health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large population of elderly people, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus, though severe cases have also been seen in younger patients. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population,.
Fox News’ Vicky Choi, Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.