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Coronavirus Has Northern Italy’s Hospitals on the Brink of Collapse

Doctors in northern Italy struggling with the explosion of COVID-19 cases are warning their hospitals are on the brink of collapse and telling other countries to prepare for a fierce battle. At the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, the sudden surge to more than 10,000 cases in the region in just three weeks…

Coronavirus Has Northern Italy’s Hospitals on the Brink of Collapse

Doctors in northern Italy struggling with the explosion of COVID-19 cases are warning their hospitals are on the brink of collapse and telling other countries to prepare for a fierce battle.

At the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, the sudden surge to more than 10,000 cases in the region in just three weeks has overwhelmed intensive care units, with a shortage of beds and staff and ventilators potentially pushing the death toll higher.

The overflow means patients are being treated in operating rooms, hospital corridors, or recovery rooms. Only a small portion of patients are being housed in negative-pressure isolation rooms, designed to stop airborne contaminants from infecting healthcare workers. Doctors are being forced to make tough decisions on which patients will get ventilation machines or respirators.

COVID-19 cases in Italy have exploded from just a handful of confirmed cases to 10,149 in less than three weeks, and with the number of cases expected to continue to rise dramatically, senior doctors are urging Italians to quarantine themselves as the only way to prevent a catastrophic collapse of their medical system.

The situation is most acute in Lombardy, the northern region that is the worst-affected part of the country, with 5,469 cases, including 440 in intensive care.

“Health care facilities have reached critical levels in Lombardy due the high number of hospitalizations and cases requiring intensive care,” Elisabetta Groppelli, a virologist and lecturer in public health at St. George’s, University of London, told VICE News.

READ: Italian inmates are looting methadone and setting prisons on fire in violent coronavirus protests

Antonio Pesenti, coordinator of the region’s intensive care crisis unit, told Italy’s Corriere Della Serra newspaper that the already dire situation would become “catastrophic” if people did not observe orders to stay home.

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“By now, we’re forced to provide intensive care treatment in the corridor, in the operating rooms, in the recovery rooms,” he said. “We gutted entire hospital wards to make room for the seriously ill. One of the best healthcare systems in the world, the Lombard one, is one step away from collapse.”

Massimo Galli, director of infectious diseases at Milan’s Sacco hospital, told The Guardian he had similar concerns. “The pressure on hospitals in Lombardy these days is enormous. I am very, very worried about the impact the virus will have on our health system.”

‘Race against time’

Lombardy’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, told Bloomberg that the region had dedicated 80% of its 1,123 acute-care beds to coronavirus. But Pesenti said that according to some forecasts, Lombardy could have 18,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients by March 26, between 2,700 and 3,200 of whom would require acute care.

Gallera said that health officials were in a “race against time” to find more acute care beds, with about 150 more due to open in the next week. Whether this was enough to respond to the crisis would depend on the effectiveness of the government’s drastic containment measures.

READ: Why the U.S. could be worse off than Italy with the coronavirus

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