Italy’s doctors warn of ‘catastrophic’ situation as coronavirus death toll rises 345 to 2,503 and infections reach 31,506
- Patients who should be in intensive care but are instead slumped in busy wards
- Hospitals which typically provide excellent care were caught flat-footed by virus
- Papa Giovanni hospital in Bergamo is creaking at the seams with case overload
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Doctors on the front line of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak have described ‘catastrophic’ scenes in hospitals which are creaking with the sheer volume of cases.
They tell of critically ill patients who should be in intensive care but are instead slumped in busy wards because of a woeful lack of equipment and staff.
Worryingly, the doctors who have spoken out are from state-of-the-art hospitals which typically provide excellent care but were caught flat-footed by the virus which is stretching their capacity to breaking point.
Italy’s outbreak – the worst outside of China – spiralled further today as infections hit 31,506 and the death toll jumped 345 to 2,503.
Medics are struggling to keep pace with the escalating number of cases, including those treating patients at the advanced Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in the wealthy city of Bergamo in the virus-plagued Lombardy region.
The 950-bed hospital has been brought to its knees because of the crisis, with more than 400 of the beds used by coronavirus patients and three of the hospital’s four most senior staff off sick.
Medical staff collect a patient from an ambulance at the second Covid-19 hospital in Rome, Italy, which is fighting the biggest virus outbreak outside of China
In a sign that Italy is scrambling to react to the outbreak, Dr Sergio Cattaneo (pictured) said he has seen unused wards outfitted into an intensive care unit in six days
Doctors on the front line of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak have described ‘catastrophic’ scenes in hospitals which are creaking with the sheer volume of cases. Pictured: staff preparing to open a new hospital in Rome
Intensive care specialist Mirco Nacoti told the Wall Street Journal: ‘Until three weeks ago, we did everything for every patient.
‘Now we have to choose which patients to put in intensive care. This is catastrophic.’
The hospital’s once rapid emergency response is also at breaking point, with even people reporting heart attacks waiting an hour on the phone because the lines are being bombarded.
Dr Angelo Giupponi, who coordinates Papa Giovanni’s emergency response, said his team takes 2,500 calls daily and brings 1,500 to hospital.
Signalling the team were caught off-guard by the epidemic, he said that ambulance staff have not been trained for such a contagion, and revealed many have become infected after their vehicles became contaminated.
Dispatcher Diego Bianco, a 40-something with no underlying health conditions, even died.
In a sign that Rome is scrambling to react to the outbreak, Dr Sergio Cattaneo said he has seen unused wards outfitted into an intensive care unit in six days.
He also claims a hospital laundry room was converted into a giant stretcher-filled waiting room and a tented field hospital erected outside to test possible new virus patients.
Italy’s outbreak – the worst outside of China – spiralled further today as infections hit 31,506 and the death toll jumped 345 to 2,503. Pictured: Hazmat suited medics in Rome today
Dr Cattaneo, head of anesthesiology and intensive care at the public hospital in Brescia in northern Italy, said: ‘What is really shocking – something we had not been able to forecast and brought us to our knees – is the quickness the epidemic spreads.
‘If the spreading of this epidemic is not put under control, it will bring all hospitals to their knees.’
Dr Cattaneo’s new ICU added six more beds to the hospital’s capacity, bringing to 42 the number of ICU beds dedicated to the virus.
Across the Lombardy region, local authorities are pushing ahead with plans to build a 400-bed ICU field hospital at the Milan fairgrounds, even though the civil protection agency has warned that it doesn’t have the ventilators or personnel to staff it, and that time is running out.
‘The secret has been – and this should be a strong message for foreign countries – to act early on this, in order to avoid – like in our case – having to chase after it day after day,’ Cattaneo said.
Brescia, an industrial city of nearly 200,000 east of Milan and the capital of a province of 1.2million, is second only to nearby Bergamo in positive cases in Lombardy, the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.
Medical director Antonino Marchese holds a press conference before the opening of the third coronavirus Hospital in Casal Palocco, Rome
For the past two days, Brescia actually outpaced Bergamo in the number of new infections, on Tuesday adding another 382 positive tests for a total of 3,300 and suggesting that it is becoming Lombardy’s hottest hot spot.
Indeed, seven of Brescia’s deaths this week were among residents of the same nursing home in Barbariga, where another eight elderly people tested positive, local media reported.
While many people suffer relatively mild symptoms from the virus, the mortality rate in Italy in people over 80 is 22 percent, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health.
It has been a race against time for Lombardy to add more ICU beds than the patients who need them, not an easy task given that 10 percent of all Italy’s infected require ICU admission, primarily for respiratory help.
Nearly all admitted patients have interstitial pneumonia, a disease in which the lace-like tissue of the lungs’ alveoli become inflamed, leading to progressive respiratory failure, according to Giovanna Perone, director of Brescia’s emergency services.
Italian Medics are struggling to keep pace with the escalating number of cases
‘In the last few days, the number of people arriving here on their own and reporting such symptoms has increased,’ Perone said outside the civil protection tents where walk-in patients are tested and then sent to the hospital’s converted laundry room to await the results.
The onslaught of infections has completely overwhelmed the public health system in Italy’s prosperous north, prompting regional officials to beg retired doctors to come back to work and to accelerate graduation dates for nurses and specialists.
‘I ask you from my heart, we need your competency, your experience, your efficiency,’ said Giulio Gallera, Lombardy’s chief healthcare official. ‘Give us a hand.’
The 25 billion euro aid package the Italian government approved Monday, aimed at bolstering both the health care system and helping businesses, workers and families weather the economic hit, also contains provisions to hire 10,000 more medical personnel.
Already Lombardy this week has received 2,200 responses to a ‘help wanted’ sign on its Facebook page, and hired over 1,000 people, Gallera said.
Italy’s medical personnel also complain about critical shortages of gear, including protective masks and glasses.
Italy’s national federations of doctors and nurses issued a joint alarm Tuesday over the more than 2,300 medical personnel who have been infected, 1,900 of them doctors and nurses.
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