China's leader visited the epicenter of the global coronavirus epidemic Tuesday, state media reported, in a sign authorities in the country believe the threat from the illness that has stoked fears of a worldwide recession was diminishing. 

But Xi Jinping's trip to Wuhan, where he spent time speaking with patients at a hospital and encouraged medics to "firm up confidence in defeating the epidemic," came as the virus continues to spread West and a nationwide lockdown in Italy, a nation of 60 million and the world's eighth largest economy, got underway.

China recorded just 19 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, according to the Xinhua News Agency. While more than 3,000 people in China have died from the disease since its emerged in Wuhan in December, almost three-fourths of China's more than 80,000 patients have recovered. Meanwhile, 14 makeshift hospitals constructed in Wuhan to care for the sick have been closed and public places closed for weeks amid the outbreak will reopen once they have been disinfected.   

In video: President Xi Jinping on Tuesday visited patients and medics at Huoshenshan Hospital after arriving in Wuhan, the epicenter of the#COVID19 outbreak.pic.twitter.com/CtPYwx6EQl

— People's Daily, China (@PDChina)March 10, 2020

In Italy, by contrast, some 9,172 people have been infected and 463 have died, according to the latest figures, and there was a growing sense the numbers would only worsen. Images and video on social media showed Italians standing in long lines at supermarkets to stock up on goods. Travel restrictions have been introduced and police and soldiers were enforcing bans on public gatherings. Schools, gyms, movie theaters and concert halls have been shuttered. "We’re only at the beginning," Dr. Massimo Galli, the head of infectious disease at Sacco Hospital in Milan, where people at the city’s main train station were required to sign forms certifying the necessity of their travel, told the Associated Press.

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the lockdown would last until April 3. 

As the virus has spread exponentially in parts of northern Italy, doctors were having to make difficult decisions about who gets priority in care and access to intensive care beds. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of people recover. But for older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and the death rate has been higher for this group.

Globally, almost 4,000 people have died from the virus and there are over 110,000 confirmed cases. Xi's trip to Wuhan was his first since the outbreak began.

Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper affiliated with the government, said Xi's visit to Wuhan sent a "strong signal to the entire country and the world that China is ascending out of the darkest moment amid the outbreak." Xi also visited a community in quarantine and a virus-prevention logistics hub. It was not clear if Xi only spoke to patients and medical staff while he was in  Wuhan via video link, as images of his visit circulating on social media suggest. 

In recent days, opinion pieces published in Global Times have questioned whether Italy and other western nations, where personal freedoms are highly celebrated, were prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to respond to the virus.

"As the first country fully mobilized to fight the virus, China has without doubt set an example for the world to follow," wrote Shi Tian, in an article that ran on the website of the publication on Tuesday. "China's image as a responsible world power has been further strengthened, not dented."

Outbreaks worsened in Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and other European countries. In the United States, where 26 people have died amid 750 confirmed infections, even some top political leaders were quarantined. Iran is the hardest-hit country in the Middle East. The coronavirus death toll reached 291 amid 8,042 cases there, Iran's health ministry said. The figures represented an 18% increase in deaths from the day before, and 12% more confirmed coronavirus cases.

In one particularly grim illustration of the fear the virus has caused in Iran, where there has been rampant speculation that the disease may be far more entrenched than the government has admitted, state media reported that at least 27 people in Iran have died from alcohol poisoning trying to prevent infection of the coronavirus. Amid the outbreak, false rumors and inaccurate science about how to fight the virus have flourished online. Among them was drinking alcohol. 

President Donald Trump said in a tweet Tuesday that "We need the Wall more than ever!" Trump was reacting to a Twitter post from a political supporter suggesting that the U.S. could prevent the coronavirus from spreading or taking hold in the U.S. with reformed immigration and border policies, including building a physical barrier with Mexico. Virus experts and scientists at the World Health Organization and other institutions have not backed that claim. 

Italian doctors celebrated one small victory in their battle against the coronavirus after a 38-year-old man was moved out of intensive care for the first time since he tested positive for the disease on Feb. 21. The patient is considered to be the first Italian to have contracted the coronavirus, according to the AP.