Italy's Civil Protection department was aiming to create a task force of 300 doctors from all over Italy to help treat patients in the worst-hit regions of Lombardy and Emilia Romagna.
Within 24 hours of putting out the call, they had received more than 7,900 applications, the department announced.
“Thanks to all the doctors who joined the operation to support regional health services,” it said in a statement, adding that it would begin assessing the applications right away.
The department had said it was first and foremost seeking anaesthetists, but would welcome applications from doctors in any field.
“This is about creating a rapid response team,” said the head of the Civil Protection, Angelo Borrelli. “The doctors selected will work alongside regional health service staff and volunteers who are already assisting in hospitals treating coronavirus patients.”
A new triage tent at a hospital in Brescia, Lombardy. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Italian hospitals, especially in Lombardy, are under huge strain as the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. According to the latest figures from Sunday, nearly 23,000 people are currently in hospital in Italy with the virus, including 3,000 requiring intensive care.
In at least two regions, Lombardy and Piedmont, all intensive care beds are now occupied by coronavirus patients, while in Liguria and Le Marche the crisis has taken up 92 percent of capacity, according to data collected by researcher Matteo Villa.
On average across Italy, nearly one in two intensive care beds is needed by a COVID-19 patient – though these figures don't reflect the fact that some Italian hospitals have managed to rapidly construct new emergency wards or field units to add capacity.
??? #covid_19italia, aggiornamento terapie intensive.
Un posto su due in Italia è occupato da pazienti #Covid_19.
In Lombardia, Valle d'Aosta, Liguria e Marche i posti sono finiti.
Non c'è molto da dire.
Restiamo a casa. pic.twitter.com/QHH3108hQn
— Matteo Villa (@emmevilla) March 21, 2020
On Monday another two Italian doctors were confirmed to have died since contracting the virus, making a total of 22 health workers who have lost their lives.
The latest victims were Leonardo Marchi, an infectious disease specialist from Cremona in Lombardy, and Manfredo Squeri, a retired hospital doctor in Parma, Emilia Romagna, who had returned to work to help with the emergency.
Around 4,800 medical staff have contracted the virus since the outbreak began, according to data from the Italian Higher Health Institute, representing around 9 percent of the total in Italy.
That figure may be underestimated, warns the GIMBE Foundation, the Italian Group for Evidence-Based Medicine, which wants testing medical professionals to be made a top priority to avoid them unwittingly spreading the virus to other patients.