European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. (Internet image)
ROME – The three states bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe have all recorded their highest death tolls for a single day.
Italy saw 368 deaths bring its total to 1 809, Spain recorded 97 more deaths for a total of 288, and France reported 29 deaths, giving a total of 120.
The United Kingdom also saw a single-day record, with 14 new deaths and a total of 35.
Governments across Europe have responded by curbing the movements of citizens and tightening borders.
Germany is to impose controls on its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg as of Monday morning, while Portugal will clamp down on its frontier with Spain.
The Czech government has introduced stringent lockdown measures: people will be allowed to go to and from work and buy food or medicine, and make urgent family visits, but otherwise free movement will be severely limited from midnight on Sunday until March 24.
Austria is banning gatherings of more than five people from Monday, and the Republic of Ireland is asking pubs to shut until 29 March.
Schools will be closed across many European states.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared Europe the "epicentreof the pandemic" which originated in China.
In an indication of the extent of the crisis, Switzerland reported a leap in the number of infections by 800 to reach 2 200 in just 24 hours. The country has recorded 14 deaths.
Italy has borne the heaviest burden from the pandemic with 24 747 infections and 1 218 of its fatalities were recorded in one region, Lombardy, which is home to the business hub of Milan.
The government put the whole country in lockdown last Monday, restricting people's movements and ordering the closure of all shops except food stores and pharmacies. Schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other venues had been closed earlier.
On Saturday, Spain, which now has 7 753 infections, and France, which has 5 400, took drastic temporary measures of their own.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called on member states to fight the pandemic with a rapidly co-ordinated response and pooled resources.
She said the bloc would boost production of equipment such as ventilators, test kits and masks, which would then be shared across the EU instead of each country making its own supply.
The export of these products to non-EU countries would be strictly controlled.