Italy Reclaims Highest Death Count in Europe, Surpassing U.K

Italy has the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe once again, surpassing the United Kingdom in deaths for the virus on Saturday as conditions have deteriorated in the country.

Italy recorded 19,903 new cases and 649 new deaths on December 12, bringing total deaths from the virus in the country to 64,036, according to Worldometer. This is marginally more than total deaths in the U.K., which stood at 64,026 on Saturday.

The figures will be seen as a setback for the country, which was the first Western nation to grapple with the pandemic and suffered a substantial number of cases and deaths in the spring.

There were 761 deaths from the virus on Friday, bringing the previous total to 63,387. U.K. deaths stood at 63,603 on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

The U.K. has led Europe in COVID-19 deaths in recent weeks but Italy had recorded 28,000 new deaths since September 1.

The Italian population stands at 60 million. This is 6 million fewer than the U.K. but Italy has an older population and those over 65 are more vulnerable to the virus.

Only Japan has an older population than Italy, which would help to explain that large number of deaths from the virus. Still, the country is facing criticism for its handling of the pandemic, especially considering the nation has had more time to assess the disease's impact and respond to it.

The average age of COVID-19 victims in Italy is around 80 years old, while than 65 percent of those who've died had at least three health problems before they contracted the virus.

Just a handful of countries have now recorded a larger number of COVID-19 deaths than Italy and these are all large population nations. They are India, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S.

Despite the country's age demographic, experts have suggested this alone does not explain the number of deaths. Longstanding problems with the Italian healthcare system are seen as a contributing factor.

It is hoped that the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine early next year will help to bring the pandemic under control but until a vaccination program can be put in place, Italy may continue to set European records for deaths and criticism of the government's handling of crisis will continue.

A COVID "Hug Room" in Ivrea, Italy
A woman wears protective mask exit for her mother's visit through a glass and plastic device in a so-called "Hug Room" amid the new coronavirus pandemic after 8 months of separation since the beginning of the Coronavirus-COVID 19 pandemic on December 10, in Ivrea, Italy. Italy once again leads Europe in COVID deaths. Stefano Guidi/Getty Images