ROME          -        With tourism tanking and panic rising, Italy is changing how it reports coronavirus cases and who will get tested in ways that could lower the country’s caseload even as an outbreak centered in northern Italy spreads in Europe, officials said Thursday.

Italian authorities plan from now on to distinguish between people who test positive for the virus and patients showing symptoms of COVID-19, the illness the virus causes, since the majority of the people in Italy with confirmed infections aren’t actually sick.

As of Thursday, Italy reported 528 cases and 12 confirmed deaths from the virus, the most of any country outside Asia. All the patients who died were elderly, sick with other ailments or both.

At the urging of the World Health Organization, Italy also is distinguishing between positive virus tests reported at a regional level and results confirmed by its National Institute of Health. The U.N. health agency insisted that only nationally certified cases are considered official.

“The cases that emerge from the regions are still considered suspect and unconfirmed,” Walter Ricciardi, a WHO adviser to the Italian government, said. “You will see that in the next few days, there will be outbreaks in other countries, too. But the other countries are much more rigorous” in their reporting methods.

Italy’s civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said the Thursday count of 528 cases came from regional reports. Only 282 cases were certified by the national health institute, but that was all the test results it analyzed, Borrelli said. Official certification therefore wasn’t expected to significantly alter the overall numbers in Italy once they were all counted, Borrelli said.

Out of the 528 cases, 159 infected people have required hospital treatment and 37 were in intensive care, while the vast majority isolated themselves at home in self-quarantine, Borrelli said.

The government is seeking to calm fears about the outbreak, which has seen countries issue travel advisories warning their citizens to avoid visiting hard-hit Lombardy and Veneto regions, which have seen the most cases.

The Italian government has lashed out at what it called alarmist and inaccurate reporting about the degree of contagion and level of panic, and insisted Italy is a safe country and ready to receive visitors.