Coronavirus: Medical waste piles up at the epicentre of Italy’s outbreak

Contaminated waste is piling up in hospitals at the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis in Italy due to the number of patients being treated.

Coronavirus: Medical waste piles up at the epicentre of Italy's outbreak
A waste disposal worker at a hosital in Cremona. All photos: Miguel Medina/AFP

Medics at the Cremona hospital in the northern Lombardy region say the enormous surge in the number of patients since March has made the issue of safe disposal particularly difficult.

Staff must be trained to properly handle everything from sheets and masks to syringes – standard hospital items now laced with added danger in a pandemic caused by a new and still unexplored disease.

“Compared to the time before the pandemic, the amount of potentially infectious waste has doubled or nearly tripled,” the hospital's waste management director Maria Rosaria Vino told AFP.

The virus has officially killed around 27,000 in Italy.

Its spread is slowing, and the country's leaders are preparing to gradually lift some of the strictest confinement measures from May 4th.

READ ALSO: 'Phase two starts now': What's Italy's plan for life after lockdown?

But the mood at the Cremona hospital remains tense.

“The risk is increased because we handle potentially infectious waste,” said Luciano Masseroni, a waste operator. “We collect the waste from various services, but we do not know which ones they are.”

The waste is now sealed in plastic bags and stored in a separate room to prevent airborne particles from spreading across hospital halls.

The bags are then boxed and hermetically sealed, their contents labeled on the outside. The boxes are eventually packed onto carts and sent for removal in sealed metal containers.

All the waste is evacuated by freight elevator and a special passageway to it in the hospital basement.

None of it can spend more than five days waiting to be shipped out by subcontractors.


“We have trained disposal teams to wear all the protective equipment. They do not face any added risk,” hospital medical director Lorenzo Cammelli said.

“The transport officials find the containers already sealed. There is no additional risk for them either.”

But caution is on everyone's mind.

Nurse Omar Semlali is one of the first to handle the equipment – and the first to start the process of its removal.

“The disposal containers fill very quickly and the most important thing is not to overstuff them because then they do not close properly,” Semlali said. “We are particularly careful making sure that they are properly sealed.”

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Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is set to undergo a judicial inquiry over claims his government's response to the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 was too slow.

Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the northern city that was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, targeted Conte after wrapping up their three-year inquiry, according to media reports.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

Investigating magistrates suspect that Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed that cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They note that in early March 2020 the government did not create a “red zone” in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.

READ ALSO: ‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Red zones had already been decreed in late February for around a dozen other nearby municipalities including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

Conte’s health minister Roberto Speranza as well as the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, are also under investigation, the reports said.

Bergamo prosecutors allege that according to scientific experts, earlier quarantines could have saved thousands of lives.

Conte, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera and other media outlets, said he was “unworried” by the inquiry, saying his government had acted “with the utmost commitment and responsibility during one of the most difficult moments of our republic.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Similar cases have been lodged against officials elsewhere, alleging that authorities failed to act quickly enough against a virus that has killed an estimated 6.8 million people worldwide since early 2020.

In January, France’s top court threw out a case against former health minister Agnes Buzyn, a trained doctor, over her allegedly “endangering the lives of others” by initially playing down the severity of Covid-19.