Italy's coronavirus death toll surged by 969 yesterday, in the biggest one-day jump that any country has suffered so far.
The hundreds of new deaths bring Italy's total from 8165 to 9134, by far the highest in the world and an increase of 11.9 per cent since yesterday.
In another significant landmark, Italy's total infection count surpassed China's today after rising by 5959 to bring the total from 80,539 to 86,948.
China has racked up 81,897 cases, while the United States has the highest tally in the world with 92,932.
However, the percentage rise in new infections in Italy - 7.4 per cent - was the lowest yet.
The head of Italy's national health institute warned today that "we haven't reached the peak and we haven't passed it".
Italy's national lockdown is already in its third week but school closures and a ban on non-essential activities are likely to be extended beyond April 3.
The world also passed another grim milestone today as the global death toll reached 25,000, the majority of them in Europe.
Cases have continued to surge in Italy despite a total shutdown of everyday life which began more than two weeks ago.
The figure of 969 deaths in the past 24 hours compares with 712 deaths on Thursday, 683 on Wednesday, 743 on Tuesday and 602 on Monday.
However, the increase in new infections was only 7.4 per cent, the lowest since the contagion began to spiral in Italy.
The government in Rome has progressively tightened the lockdown rules, banning all non-essential activities until at least next Friday.
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 before Friday's figures were released.
Schools and universities were among 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 also 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.
Lombardy has taken the heaviest hit in Italy, accounting for around 43 per cent of cases and 60 per cent of deaths.
The crisis has left hospitals in northern Italy overwhelmed and forced doctors into unenviable life-or-death decisions over who gets access to intensive care.
The body count has also been too much for morgues and cemeteries, who have had to call in the army to take coronavirus victims away for cremation.
The head of the country's national health institute warned today that infections in Italy have yet to reach their peak.
"We haven't reached the peak and we haven't passed it," Silvio Brusaferro, told reporters.
However, he added 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.
Italy today became the second nation in 24 hours to overtake China's infection count, after the United States jumped ahead last night.
China still had a majority of world infections and deaths as recently as March 15, according to World Health Organisation figures.
But in the 12 days since then, its proportion of global deaths has fallen from 56 per cent to 13 per cent.
The coronavirus crisis has also killed 44 medics in Italy after another four died yesterday and two today, a doctor's federation said.
The Italian Federation of Medical Professionals said the latest victims included doctors in Bergamo, Turin, Genoa, Lecco and Pesaro e Urbino.
Some 6414 medical workers have been infected, an Italian research institute said - taking them away from the health service when they are desperately needed.
The infected health workers make up nearly 8 per cent of Italy's total cases.
The latest medics to die of Covid-19 include pulmonologist Marcello Ugolini, 70, and medical councillor Anna Maria Focarete, 69, who died yesterday, according to the federation.
Of the four who died yesterday, two were associated with the province of Bergamo, which has been exceptionally hard hit by the crisis.
"What we face every day is a real war bulletin. Doctors and their families mourn their dead," said Filippo Anelli, president of the doctors' federation.
The doctors' federation has warned that the true death toll may be higher because "many doctors die suddenly, even if the cause of death is not directly attributable to the virus, because the swab is not carried out".
On top of that, at least one nurse is believed to have killed herself after being infected with coronavirus and fearing she had spread the disease to others.
Daniela Trezzi, 34, had been working on the front line of the coronavirus crisis at a hospital in Lombardy, the worst-affected region of Italy.
The National Federation of Nurses of Italy confirmed her death and expressed its "pain and dismay" in a statement earlier this week.
The nursing group also revealed that "a similar episode had happened a week ago in Venice, with the same underlying reasons".
Many Italian hospitals have been overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and are facing shortages of ventilators and other medical supplies.
Thousands of medics falling sick has taken them away from the front line when they are urgently needed.
Nino Cartabellotta, the head of the Gimbe foundation which is gathering data on the number of infected medics, urged that this "phenomenon" must be "curbed to safeguard those who take care of us".
As well as hospital doctors and general practitioners, the dead include dentists, psychiatrists and an ophthalmologist.