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Coronavirus in Italy: 368 deaths recorded in one day as Lombardy warns of hospital bed shortage

Italy on Sunday reported a one-day record death toll and officials warned of a shortage of beds and artificial respirators in the northern Lombardy region, at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe.

Coronavirus in Italy: 368 deaths recorded in one day as Lombardy warns of hospital bed shortage
A health worker outside a temporary emergency structure set up outside a hospital in the town of Brescia, in Lombardy. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Italy now accounts for more than half of all the cases recorded outside China.

Italy on Sunday recorded 368 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, its highest one-day increase to date, taking the total to 1,809.

The number of infections has reached a total of 24,747, Italy's civil protection service said.

This figure includes the 1,809 deceased as well as the 2,335 patients who have fully recovered.

Italian health experts have predicted that the numbers will continue to rise in the coming days, with nationwide quarantine measures implemented on Tuesday expected to show results in around two weeks.

READ ALSO: 'Stay at home': Italy's new coronavirus quarantine rules explained

Almost 125,000 tests for the viirus have now been carried out in Italy, official data showed.

The northern Lombardy region around Milan remained the European epicentre of the pandemic, officially reporting 1,218 deaths, or 67 percent of the Italian total.

But Sunday also saw the number of deaths in the southeastern Puglia region around the city of Bari double from eight to 16.

Almost every region of Italy has now recorded at least one death connected to the coronavirus outbreak, other than two southern regions: Molise and Basilicata.

The Lazio region that includes the Italian capital Rome has officially recorded 16 deaths in all – up from 13 on Saturday – and 436 infections.

Central Rome on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Lombardy's regional governor Attilio Fontana said the situation in areas around Italy's financial capital of Milan was “getting worse”.

“We are close to the point where we will no longer be able to resuscitate people because we will be out of intensive care unit beds,” Fontana told Italy's Sky TG24 channel.

“We need those machines (doctors) use to ventilate lungs, artificial respirators that unfortunately we cannot find,” Fontana said.

“As soon as those respirators arrive from abroad, we will be ready to go on the attack.”

The Lombardy region has recorded 1,218 of the deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 over the past three weeks – more than the rest of Europe combined.
The region of 10 million – slightly smaller but more economically productive than neighbouring Switzerland to the north – also has 13,272 reported infections and 767 people in intensive care.

'No more ambulances'

Milan mayor Beppe Sala said he had managed to secure shipments of surgical masks from China to help cover a growing shortage of equipment for medical staff.

“Milan has always had excellent relations with the main Chinese cities and I made a few phone calls over the past few days in search of masks,” the Milan mayor said.

“The first shipment arrived (on Friday) and we will now distribute them to doctors, to our staff.”

European Commission also announced the imminent delivery of one million masks from Germany.

Yet the situation remained critical – despite Lombardy enjoying a world-class healthcare system that has been consistently praised by the World Health Organization for its level of equipment and organisation.

Health workers treat coronavirus patients in a temporary emergency structure set up outside a hospital in the town of Brescia, in Lombardy. Photo: AFP

Lombardy welfare councillor Giulio told reporters Saturday that “there are no more ambulances” in areas around Milan.

The governor of Venice's Veneto region, to the east of Lombardy, also called on “everyone to remain in isolation” to avoid putting hospitals under further strain.

“If you do not follow the rules, the health system will crash and I will have to impose a curfew,” Veneto governor Luca Zaia warned.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte insisted on Sunday that his government was paying “maximum attention” to the situation in the north.

The government is set to soon unveil a new crisis plan, which reportedly includes family relief measures such as parental leave pay and help for the self-employed.

The government said it was also in discussion with banks about a suspension of some family mortgage payments.

Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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