Italy on Friday recorded the most daily deaths of any country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and Spain had its deadliest day.
Italy reported 969 new deaths, Spain 769 and France 299 as Europe reeled from a crisis that led the United States on Friday to finalise an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus package.
In other grim milestones, AFP tallies showed more than 26,000 deaths worldwide, and a total of 300,000 cases now recorded in Europe, after the United States overtook China as the country with the most infections.
Italy showed a continuing downward trend in infection rates and Spain said its rate appeared to be slowing, but other countries were bracing for the virus's full impact.
Ireland announced it was imposing a lockdown, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar imploring his citizens to "stay at home, in all circumstances".
The World Health Organization's regional director for Africa warned the continent faced a "dramatic evolution" of the pandemic, as South Africa also began life under lockdown and reported its first COVID-19 death.
Uk PM Boris Johnson, whose country has seen more than 14,000 declared coronavirus cases and 759 deaths, said he had developed mild symptoms and tested positive.
"I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government's response via video-conference as we fight this virus," Johnson, who had initially resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown before changing course, wrote on Twitter.
Europe has suffered the brunt of the coronavirus crisis in recent weeks, with millions across the continent on lockdown and the streets of Paris, Rome and Madrid eerily empty.
'She just had a cough'
In France, where nearly 2,000 people have died, the government announced it was extending its stay-at-home order until at least April 15.
While severe, the 299 new deaths it recorded Friday were lower than the 365 reported the previous day.
The death of a 16-year-old girl from the virus has particularly shaken France, shattering the belief of many young people that they were immune.
The girl's mother Sabine told AFP that Julie "just had a cough" at first but deteriorated quickly. She died Wednesday, less than a week later.
"It's unbearable," Sabine said. "We were supposed to have a normal life."
In the United States, known infections jumped past 100,000, surpassing China and Italy, with more than 1,500 deaths, according to a tracker at the Johns Hopkins University.
In New York City, the US epicentre of the crisis, health workers battled a surging toll, including an increasing number of younger patients.
"Now it's 50-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 30-year-olds," said one respiratory therapist at the Jewish Medical Center in Queens.
They "didn't listen about not going out or protecting themselves and washing their hands," he said.