Italy on March 15 reported a one-day record with 368 new deaths from the novel coronavirus.
The number of fatalities in Italy shot up by 368 to 1,809 — more than half of all the cases recorded outside China, AFP reported.
The Vatican took the drastic step of cancelling Easter week celebrations as northern Italian leaders warned they were running out of beds and artificial respirators.
Pope Francis left Vatican City on March 15 "on foot, as if on a pilgrimage" to pray in one of Rome's cathedrals for victims of the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican said.
Across France and Spain, which have also become European virus hotspots, cafes, shops and restaurants closed.
France had ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, while Spain went a step further, banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.
Cases also spiked in Germany which will introduce border controls with France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Denmark from Monday.
The number of officially recorded novel coronavirus cases globally stood at 163,930 with 6,420 deaths, across 141 countries and territories at 1700 GMT Sunday, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.
The death toll in Europe passed 2,000 on March 15.
The disease has now hit all global regions, ripping up sporting and cultural calendars, shaking the stock markets and businesses — particularly airlines — and prompting often contradictory responses from governments.