The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in Italy has surged by 919 in one day, with 9,134 patients now having lost their lives.

This is the highest daily tally since the outbreak began on 21 February.

Prior to the latest figure, the largest daily toll was registered on 21 March, when 793 people died.

The 919 people who died over the last 24 hours compares with 712 deaths on Thursday, 683 on Wednesday, 743 on Tuesday and 602 on Monday.

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 86,498 from a previous 80,539, taking Italy's total past that of China, where the coronavirus epidemic emerged at the end of last year.

The United States already surpassed China's tally of cases on Thursday.

In Italy, of those originally infected nationwide, 10,950 had fully recovered Friday, compared to 10,361 the day before. There were 3,732 people in intensive care against a previous 3,612.

Earlier, the national health institute (ISS) had cautiously suggested lockdown measures to curb the spread of the disease may soon bear fruit.

"I want to be clear on one point. We have not peaked yet," said the institute's head Silvio Brusaferro.

"There are signs of a slowdown, which makes us believe that we are close, we could peak in the next few days."

A coronavirus patient being treated at a hospital in Rome

However, virologists have warned that the actual number of Italy's positive cases is up to five times as high as the official count. That means infections will still climb even with Italians ordered to stay home for all but essential activity.

Meanwhile the number of doctors killed by the virus in Italy has risen to 44, with nearly 6,500 health workers infected, ISS said.

The latest victim was doctor Annamaria Focarete, 70. One tearful colleague told a local news agency that "with her fighting spirit she seemed to have beaten it. Then a super-infection got her."

"The gloom is deepening hour by hour. Psychological support for doctors right now is not only necessary, it's indispensable," said surgeon Liberato Aceto from the Santissima Annunziata hospital in Chieti, east of Rome.

"Conditions are getting increasingly difficult in the areas reserved for Covid-19 patients," he said.