Italy's coronavirus deaths rise by 743 in 24 hours, reversing recent decline in daily fatalities
Undertakers wearing face masks unload a coffin out of a hearse at the Monumental cemetery of Bergamo, Lombardy, in Italy. Piero Cruciatti/AFP

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has grown by 743 to 6,820, the head of the Civil Protection Agency said on Tuesday, reversing a decline in fatalities seen over the last two days.

On Monday 602 people died. That followed 650 deaths on Sunday and 793 on Saturday -- the highest daily figure since the coronavirus contagion came to light on February 21.

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy rose to 69,176 from a previous 63,927, an increase of 8.2 percent, in line with Monday's growth rate, the Civil Protection Agency said.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 8,326 had fully recovered on Tuesday compared to 7,432 the day before. There were 3,396 people in intensive care against a previous 3,204.

The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remained in a critical situation, with a total of 4,178 deaths and 30,703 cases. That compared with 3,776 deaths and 28,761 cases reported up to Monday.

Italy calls for eurozone bailout

The spike in numbers came as Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri on Tuesday said the government would ask parliament in the first weeks of April to authorise a new hike in this year's deficit levels.

Speaking to parliament, Gualtieri had said earlier that the Treasury forecast a major contraction in gross domestic product in the first half of this year.

Gualtieri also said the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, should be used to help economies hit by the coronavirus crisis, with no strings attached.

Some richer northern euro zone nations have expressed unease about making the fund available without policy conditions aimed at making its recipients more economically competitive.

"We must use all the resources available at the EU level, including the ESM, without any conditionality," Gualtieri told parliament.

Gualtieri's position is also different to that of some members of the ruling coalition in Rome, who do not want Italy to use the ESM at all, arguing it would saddle the country with long term debt that would be hard to repay.

Italy has borne the brunt of the outbreak in Europe, and earlier on Tuesday Antonio Misiani, Gualtieri's deputy minister, told Reuters the only acceptable conditionality should be that the ESM cash is used "to manage the health and economic emergency".

Misiani, like Gualtieri, is from the centre-left Democratic Party, but its coalition partner, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is reluctant to deploy the ESM, fearing it would place tougher fiscal obligations on Rome and impinge on national sovereignty.

"The ESM doesn't work. Using this instrument to take on a debt for decades is absolutely not in our interests," Raphael Raduzzi, a 5-Star member of the parliamentary finance committee, told Reuters.

Photo: Undertakers wearing face masks unload a coffin out of a hearse at the Monumental cemetery of Bergamo, Lombardy, in Italy. Piero Cruciatti/AFP