Five more Italian doctors have died from coronavirus, bringing the death toll among medics in the country to 13. At least 2629 health workers have been infected.

Initially, three new fatalities were named as Luigi Ablondi, former general manager of Crema hospital, Giuseppe Finzi, a hospital doctor in Cremona and a general practitioner in Bergamo called Antonino Buttafuoco.

Then later today it emerged another two medical workers had died from the illness, the Italian national federation of doctors guilds said.

One of the Italian doctors who died, Marcello Natali, previously told Euronews he had to work without gloves as supplies for the product dried up.

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All the health workers infected make up of 8.3 per cent of the country's total cases, according to the Gimbe Health Foundation's release.

The government extended lockdown measures beyond the start of April today.

There has been growing concerns about the safety of frontline medical staff who come into regular contact with infected patients.

Medical personnel at work in the intensive care unit of the hospital of Brescia, Italy. Photo / AP
Medical personnel at work in the intensive care unit of the hospital of Brescia, Italy. Photo / AP

The huge number of infected medics showed procedures and protective equipment for doctors were still inadequate, the health foundation said.

The problem is far worse than in China, as the percentage of Italian health workers has doubled compared to Chinese employees, the Gimbe foundation's president Nino Cartabellotta told Italian media.

According to the figures, the number of infected medics has risen by more than 1500 just in the past eight days.

It comes as Italy's deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have eclipsed China's as the scourge extends its march across the West.

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The virus has infected at least one European head of state: Monaco's 62-year-old Prince Albert II, who continued to work from his office. And it appeared to be opening an alarming new front in Africa, where health care in many countries is already in sorry shape.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is "at war with a virus" and warned that "a global recession, perhaps of record dimensions, is a near certainty".

"If we let the virus spread like wildfire — especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world - it would kill millions of people," he said.

Italy, with 60 million citizens, has recorded 3405 deaths, roughly 150 more than in China, a country with a population more than 20 times larger.

As Italy reached its bleak milestone, China is seeing signs of hope. Wuhan, the city where the new virus emerged three months ago, had no new infections for a second day Friday, a sign its draconian lockdowns had worked.

Medical personnel help each other to dress, in the background, as others check papers at an emergency tent set up outside the hospital for first evaluation, in Brescia, Northern Italy. Photo / AP
Medical personnel help each other to dress, in the background, as others check papers at an emergency tent set up outside the hospital for first evaluation, in Brescia, Northern Italy. Photo / AP

Health authorities cited a variety of reasons for Italy's high toll, key among them its large population of elderly, who are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the virus.

Italy has the world's second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87 per cent — were over 70.

Three weeks into Italy's coronavirus crisis, Dr Sergio Cattaneo has seen an unused ward outfitted into an intensive care unit in six days, a hospital laundry room converted into a giant stretcher-filled waiting room and a tented field hospital erected outside to test possible new virus patients.

But Cattaneo, head of anesthesiology and intensive care at the public hospital in Brescia in northern Italy, still can't get his head around the curve — the upward slope of new infections in Italy that tracks almost exactly the trajectory of cases in Wuhan, China, where the global pandemic began three months ago.

"What is really shocking — something we had not been able to forecast and brought us to our knees — is the quickness the epidemic spreads," Cattaneo told The Associated Press during an exclusive tour of Brecia's newest ICU. "If the spreading of this epidemic is not put under control, it will bring all hospitals to their knees."

- additional reporting AP