Nearly 8,000 doctors volunteer for Italy’s coronavirus task force

Nearly 8,000 doctors volunteered to help out on the frontlines of Italy's coronavirus crisis, more than 25 times the number the authorities had sought.

Nearly 8,000 doctors volunteer for Italy's coronavirus task force
Doctors at a hospital in Milan, one of the cities hardest hit by Italy's coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

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. 

READ ALSO: 'Hospitals are overwhelmed': Italian doctors on fighting the coronavirus

“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.

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. 

READ ALSO: 'Learn from Italy's mistakes', health expert warns Europe

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.

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WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

The World Health Organization's European office said Saturday that more monkeypox-related deaths can be expected, following reports of the first fatalities outside Africa, while stressing that severe complications were still be rare.

WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

“With the continued spread of monkeypox in Europe, we will expect to see more deaths,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO Europe, said in a statement.

Smallwood emphasised that the goal needs to be “interrupting transmission quickly in Europe and stopping this outbreak”.

However, Smallwood stressed that in most cases the disease heals itself without the need for treatment.

“The notification of deaths due to monkeypox does not change our assessment of the outbreak in Europe. We know that although self-limiting in most cases, monkeypox can cause severe complications,” Smallwood noted.

The Spanish health ministry recorded a second monkeypox-related death on Saturday, a day after Spain and Brazil reported their first fatalities.

The announcements marked what are thought to be the first deaths linked to the current outbreak outside Africa.

Spanish authorities would not give the specific cause of death for the fatalities pending the outcome of an autopsy, while Brazilian authorities underlined that the man who died had “other serious conditions”.

“The usual reasons patients might require hospital care include help in managing pain, secondary infections, and in a small number of cases the need to manage life-threatening complications such as encephalitis,” Smallwood explained.

According to the WHO, more than 18,000 cases have been detected throughout the world outside of Africa since the beginning of May, with the majority of them in Europe.

The WHO last week declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

As cases surge globally, the WHO on Wednesday called on the group currently most affected by the virus — men who have sex with men — to limit their sexual partners.

Early signs of the disease include a high fever, swollen lymph glands and a chickenpox-like rash.

The disease usually heals by itself after two to three weeks, sometimes taking a month.

A smallpox vaccine from Danish drug maker Bavarian Nordic, marketed under the name Jynneos in the United States and Imvanex in Europe, has also been found to protect against monkeypox.