Italy calls in retired doctors to help fight coronavirus outbreak

Italy on Saturday began recruiting retired doctors as part of urgent efforts to bolster the healthcare system with 20,000 additional staff to fight the escalating viral epidemic.

Italy calls in retired doctors to help fight coronavirus outbreak
Medical staff assist a patient arriving at a hospital in Cremona, northern Italy. Photo: AFP

The measure was one of several adopted by the government during an all-night cabinet meeting that came after the country reported a record 49 deaths on Friday.

Friday's death toll from the novel coronavirus was the highest of the two-week crisis and took Italy's fatalities total to 197 – the biggest outside China itself.

The outbreak in Italy has prompted authorities to close all schools until mid-March, and announce a 7.5 billion euro rescue plan to tackle the outbreak – with much of that money destined for the emergency services, the government said.

An unusuallyquiet street in central Rome on Friday. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile many areas usually filled with tourists are now quiet after many reportedly cancelled travel plans to the country amid virus fears.

The sharp drop in visitor numbers to Italy is wreaking havoc with the country's usually booming tourism industry ,and contributing to fears that the anaemic economy is about to tip back into recession.

But the government's most immediate concern is that COVID-19 infections that had been largely contained to pockets of the richer north will start spreading into the poorer and less medically equipped south.

The World Health Organization concluded a mission to Italy on Friday by recommending the government keep “a strong focus on containment measures”.

The government said its medical recruitment drive should help double the staff of hospitals' respiratory and infectious disease departments.

It should also increase the number of intensive care beds from 5,000 to 7,500 in the coming days.
The number of Italians receiving intensive care treatment for the COVID-19 disease reached 462 on Friday.

The total number of coronavirus infections grew to 4,636 on Friday.

The Vatican is also unrolling unprecedented health precautions designed to keep the tiny city state's 450 mostly elderly residents safe, after the first COVID-19 infection was recorded at one of its clinics on Thursday.


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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”