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Healthcare in Italy: "We don't need tents yet"

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Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the spread of the corona virus as one of the darkest hours in the country. As of this Thursday, more than 35,700 people have been shown to be infected with Covid-19, and around 3,000 have so far died from the disease. Entire provinces are cordoned off from the outside world, and there is a curfew throughout Italy, which is now to be extended again.

The Italian healthcare system is heavily burdened by the high number of seriously ill people. Health Commissioner Giulio Gallera said on Thursday that hospitals in particularly affected Lombardy were on the verge of collapse, and more and more young patients were coming who needed ventilation.

Hassan Farhat

40 years old, intensive care physician in Cuneo / Piedmont

We got the first infections a week after Lombardy. Now we are flooded with sick people. At the Santa Croce e Carle hospital, we actually had five beds for intensive care and we increased more and more, in the recovery room, in the operating room. Now we have 18 beds with ventilators. We still don't need tents like Bergamo, but that can come. The number of patients is increasing rapidly, at the moment we have 18 ventilators and in 30 beds additional corona patients. A total of seven people who were infected with corona died in Cuneo by March 18. The condition of a man who came out of quarantine on Tuesday evening has deteriorated so badly within 12 hours that he had to go to the ventilator. Elsewhere, new drugs against viruses are currently being tested, maybe they can help a little. But there is still a lack of experience with Covid-19, it is a new one virus. There are other forms of severe pneumonia, but few worsen as quickly and are as easily transmitted through the upper respiratory tract as Covid-19. The first people infected with us were a 45-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman. You have recovered. The patient, who is now in critical condition, is 49 years old. This is rather unusual because most patients are over 60 years old. We send patients who are positive for Corona for the first time home if they have no severe symptoms. If they do not recover and are short of breath, they must come back quickly.

Camilla Tincati

40 years old, specialist for infectious diseases at the Santi Paolo e Carlo hospital in Milan / Lombardy

As a specialist in infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis or meningitis, I was initially involved in finding out whether there were patients in the hospital who were infected with Covid-19 without being recognized. We now have 70 Covid patients and almost all doctors, including surgeons, nurses and social workers, have been working continuously since then. At the beginning we only had one department for Covid-19, there are currently four and we will probably open new ones. At almost eight percent, the mortality rate in northern Italy seems high compared to other regions. It is not easy to interpret statistics, but it may be because we have done a lot of tests here from the start, more than anywhere else. That we are identified as corona-dead people with many sometimes serious illnesses, while they may not be tested anywhere else. And that we are a very old society and that families with young and old often live under one roof. Some of my colleagues got infected. We have to be very careful and always wear our hoods, masks, gloves and protective gowns, also to keep the virus from spreading. Fortunately, all of the sick colleagues are healthy and back at work.

Valentina Bergonzi

42 years old, science communicator, Piacenza / Emilia Romagna

Now we know that February 21 changed everything. It was the day when the first region Zona rossa was explained. My husband and I sat at breakfast in the morning and joked, everything seemed so surreal to us, from putting on protective masks and such. I have been living in this apartment in our village for three weeks now and have now found out what information I can rely on online. It was equally important for me as a scientist, but we all need serious information, information and advice – you can get it online from the health office in Piacenza. I'm basically fine, we have a garden. A network of helpers was formed very quickly, consisting of young people who shop for the elderly and put food in front of them. Most of the 1,000 inhabitants in the village are old people. My husband runs the pharmacy here, alone, and has a lot to do. For the first few days, people stood in line and wanted to know how to disinfect themselves, what if I cough, where do I get food from? After a few days, he stuck strips on the floor to keep people away and only let one at a time into the pharmacy. Gradually everyone understood that they had to stay at home. Now he sometimes gets up to 120 calls a day, wears a mask – and on Tuesday we had 26 dead in Piacenza alone, including acquaintances. It is terrible.

Stephan Ortner

55 years old, microbiologist and director of the research institute EURAC research in Bozen / South Tyrol

We sent our 500 employees home from the academy on February 24th to our home office. My wife and the children stayed with my grandparents in Oberwiesenthal during the Carnival holidays. The biostatisticians at our institute have been warning for weeks that politicians should have reacted much faster to the virus, especially in Germany. Despite the lockdown here, the situation is very tense. The approximately 40 beds for intensive care in South Tyrol will soon be full. And we have 550,000 inhabitants. We are now hopefully waiting for the lockdown to take effect soon. I'm going shopping for my parents now, they're over 80 years old. I hope we are spared what is currently happening in Bergamo and Brescia: there were eleven pages of death notices in last Friday's newspaper. But acting is better than hope, so please stay at home!

Maria Rita Gismondo

56 years old, virologist and emergency doctor at the University Clinic of Milan / Lombardy

I am afraid that now after Corona we will lose the chance to change our healthcare system. I head the national laboratory for emergency medicine. I have been living there since February 20th and only go home for a few hours. My older relatives live in total isolation, so they are safe. I advise everyone to make clear decisions immediately, because Covid-19 can plunge our healthcare systems into a deep crisis. The world must now recognize that there are no limits. The virus showed us that. And that we have to change our concept of public health: it should not continue to be organized at national level, but at least at European level.

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