“The situation in Campania (region) is out of control,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told La Stampa newspaper on Friday, adding: “We need urgent restrictions… people are dying.”
Outside the Cotugno hospital in Naples, medics brought out oxygen tanks to treat people parked in their cars outside the crowded emergency room, while others in full protective gear awaited ambulances bringing in new Covid patients.
“We have almost no more beds available,” Rodolfo Punzi, head of the hospital's infectious disease department, told AFP.
“Unfortunately, the disease requires long hospitalisations and that's why there is a low turnover. The emergency room… gets full of people who need tobe hospitalised but also of people who could be assisted locally in their homes.”
He said he was “proud” to see nurses running outside “to take care of patients with oxygen tanks”.
But such scenes have sparked fear among many in Campania, which was spared the worst of the coronavirus outbreak that ravaged northern Italy earlier this
A video showing a dead man on the bathroom floor of the emergency room in Naples' Cardarelli hospital went viral this week, despite uncertainty over how
exactly he died.
“That video unmasked the many lies that are told and repeated about healthcare in Campania. We are afraid. We are asking for help,” said Don Maurizio Patriciello, a priest and long-standing health campaigner in the region.
“We are told not to clog up hospitals, to stay at home when the first symptoms of contagion appear. We obeyed, we got sick, we phoned for the swab (virus test), but it was hours, days, before we had the slightest response.”
Italy imposed an economically crippling national lockdown earlier this year that brought the outbreak under control, but has been seeking an alternative approach to the recent surge in cases — with little apparent success so far.
Infections passed the one-million mark this week while cases are rising at more than 30,000 a day. In recent days the daily death toll has topped 600 to
more than 43,000 since the crisis began — and the burden threatens to overwhelm health services.
Campania is particularly at risk. In a 2018 study published earlier this year, it came second only to Calabria in having Italy's worst quality of care.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government has mooted sending in the army to help, including to set up field hospitals, while it is also encouraging the
use of hotel rooms for recuperating patients.
Despite this, Campania is currently designated a “yellow zone”, the lowest risk category in Italy's new tiered system.
The lower-risk classification provoked an outcry among the public and local officials, and the government sent in its own inspectors to assess the situation on Thursday.
Italy's government is currently re-evaluating the system of regional classifications for the second time this week, with an announcement expected late on Friday.
The Campania region is expected to move into the next level, “orange”, or even to skip that stage and be placed in the “red” zone, where bars, restaurants and most shops are shut, and residents' movements restricted.
However some health experts say the government is acting too slowly.
The health ministry's own coronavirus consultant, Walter Ricciardi, said on Thursday he would have made Naples a red zone three weeks ago, warning of “war
scenes” in hospitals.
In fact many health experts say tougher restrictions across the whole of Italy are now urgently needed.
“We call for an immediate lockdown of the whole country,” said Filippo Anelli, head of the national surgeons' federation, on Monday.