By Gavin Jones and Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) - Italy has registered 15,199 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Wednesday, the highest daily tally since the start of the country's outbreak and up from a previous record of 11,705 posted on Sunday.
Tuesday saw 10,874 new cases of the highly contagious virus.
The ministry also reported 127 COVID-related deaths on Wednesday, up from 89 the day before but still far fewer than at the height of the pandemic in Italy in March and April, when a daily peak of more than 900 fatalities was reached.
After declining over the summer, infections have steadily accelerated in the last few months.
They are now far more widely distributed around the country than during Italy's first wave, but the hardest hit region is once again Lombardy, around the financial capital Milan.
On Wednesday, Lombardy accounted for 4,125 of the country's new cases, with Milan and its hinterland close to 2,000 infections over the last 24 hours.
The number of people in intensive care with the virus has risen steadily. It stood at 926 on Wednesday, up from 870 on Tuesday and compared with around 40 in the second half of July.
There are now around the same number of intensive care patients as when the country went into national lockdown on March 9, though at that time they were far more heavily concentrated in northern regions.
The number of swabs carried out over the past 24 hours rose to a new record of 177,848 from 144,737 registered on Tuesday.
Italy was the first country in Europe to be slammed by COVID-19 and has the second-highest death toll in the continent after Britain, with 36,832 fatalities since the outbreak flared in February, according to official figures.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he is determined to avoid another national lockdown of the kind imposed between March and May, and is instead urging local authorities to decide what is best for their own regions.
Lombardy decided on Monday to introduce a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. to shut down late night gatherings where the virus might easily spread. On Wednesday, after the latest infection numbers, it announced the closure of secondary schools from Monday.
Lazio, around the capital Rome, imposed its own curfew on Wednesday, to run from midnight to 5 a.m, effective from Friday.
Campania, which is centred on Naples, has said it will follow suit in coming days, while the northern Piedmont region, centred on Turin, announced it would shutter shopping centres at the weekend.
Campania, like other southern regions, emerged largely unscathed from the initial wave of the epidemic, but has seen a recent jump in infections.
It has already ordered the closure of all its junior and secondary schools until the end of October, despite protests from the education minister who has pushed for schools to remain open nationwide.
(Writing by Gavin Jones, editing by Angelo Amante)