The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has surged by 919 to 9,134, the Civil Protection Agency said on Friday, the highest daily tally since the epidemic emerged on February 21.
Prior to Friday's figure, the largest daily toll was registered on March 21, when 793 people died.
The 919 people who died over the last 24 hours compares with 712 deaths on Thursday, 683 on Wednesday, 743 on Tuesday and 602 on Monday.
The total number of confirmed cases rose to 86,498 from a previous 80,539, taking Italy's total past that of China, where the coronavirus epidemic emerged at the end of last year.
The United States already surpassed China's tally of cases on Thursday.
In Italy, of those originally infected nationwide, 10,950 had fully recovered on Friday, compared to 10,361 the day before. There were 3,732 people in intensive care against a previous 3,612.
The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy reported a steep rise in fatalities compared with the day before and remains in a critical situation, with a total of 5,402 deaths and 37,298 cases.
That compared with 4,861 deaths and 34,889 cases reported up to Thursday.
Friday's cumulative death tally included 50 fatalities that actually occurred on Thursday in the northern Piedmont region, but whose notification arrived too late to be included in the official figures for March 26, the Civil Protection Agency said.
This has led to some confusion and means that some media outlets are reporting the Friday daily tally at 969, rather than 919.
Coronavirus infections in Italy have yet to reach their peak, the head of the country's national health institute said on Friday, as officials warned that lockdown restrictions would have to be extended beyond April 3.
"We haven't reached the peak and we haven't passed it," the chief of the Superior Health Institute, Silvio Brusaferro, told reporters, adding that there were however "signs of a slowdown" in the numbers of people becoming infected.
"When the descent begins, how steep it is will depend on our behaviour," Brusaferro said, referring to how strictly Italians will continue to respect a government-imposed lockdown.
Italy was the first Western country to introduce swingeing restrictions on movement after uncovering the outbreak five weeks ago. It has progressively tightened the curbs, banning all non-essential activities until at least next Friday.
However, Franco Locatelli, who heads the council which advises the government on health matters, told reporters this deadline would need extending.
"If I had to decide using today's data, I believe it is inevitable these measures will be prolonged," he said.
Schools and universities were amongst the first places to be shut down, closing their doors nationwide on March 5. Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said on Friday that the current date for the order to be lifted, April 3, would have to be extended.
"Our aim is to ensure that students return to school only when we are completely sure that it is safe. Health is the priority," she told state broadcaster RAI.
The northern region of Lombardy, centred on the Italian financial capital Milan, has been the hardest hit, accounting for 43pc of all known cases and 60pc of all deaths.
The region saw a jump in new cases on Thursday that confounded previous signs of a downturn there, but the local governor, Attilio Fontana, said the increase was the result of greater testing and predicted more encouraging data for Friday.
"Today there is a reduction in the number of infections, which is good news," he said, adding that to spot definite trends you needed to view the data over a five-day period.
"The infection rate is not growing and I think it is about to fall," he said in his daily briefing.
Underscoring the virulence of the contagion, the national federation of doctors, surgeons and orthodontists said on Friday that 46 colleagues had so far died, six more than a day ago - many of them general practitioners in northern towns and cities.
In a open letter published on Friday, more than 300 doctors and scientists called on the government to let them use their own laboratories to ramp up testing and identify mild and asymptomatic cases that are currently going undetected.
At present, only a few, specialist labs are checking swabs, severely restricting the number of patients who can be tested, meaning the true extent of the illness is not being tracked.
"In Italy there is an extraordinary community of researchers who could contribute immediately and very significantly and at zero cost to the current emergency situation," they said.
There was no immediate response from the Health Ministry.