Italian hospitals ‘inundated’ by Covid patients as daily case number hits 126,000

As Italy's daily coronavirus infection rate soared past the symbolic milestone of 100,000 on Thursday, medical staff say ever-higher numbers of hospital admissions are putting them under strain.

Medical staff stand near a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at Rome's Institute of Clinical Cardiology.
Medical staff stand near a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at Rome's Institute of Clinical Cardiology on December 30th, 2021. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

“We are inundated,” medical director Antonino Marchese says wearily as his Rome Covid hospital fills up with patients, most of them unvaccinated despite the country bringing in restrictions for those who choose not to get the jab.

As daily coronavirus infections in Italy hit a new high of over 126,000 on Thursday, hospital admissions are also rising again due to the new Omicron variant and the persisting reluctance among some to get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: Italy announces new Covid quarantine and green pass rules as cases surge

At Rome’s Casalpalocco hospital, the situation has been “serious” for about a month, Marchese told AFP.

Of the facility’s 120 beds, 111 are now filled by patients suffering from the Covid-19 disease.

“We are inundated with requests for admission. It’s a constant pressure,” said Marchese, adding that he expects numbers to rise further.

Almost three-quarters of the hospital’s Covid patients are unvaccinated, and some resist intubation when taken to the intensive care unit.

“Then they generally accept because they realise how serious it is and then they can no longer breathe on their own,” he said.

The majority of patients in intensive care are elderly, but younger people also fill up beds “because they have to be constantly and precisely monitored to see if they need to be ventilated”, Marchese said.

Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Throughout Italy, other hospitals report a similar phenomenon.

Whereas 10 percent of all Italy’s intensive care beds were occupied by Covid patients on December 17, that number has crept up to 13 percent in the past two days, according to Italy’s National Agency for Regional Health Services.

Some regions are under more pressure, such as Veneto, at 18 percent, and Lazio – of which Rome is the capital – at 16 percent.

Although 85.8 percent of the country’s population over the age of 12 has been fully inoculated, there remain roughly six million unvaccinated over-12s, according to official data.

“In my opinion, in Italy we’ve managed to steer the population towards a certain favourable vaccination trend,” said Marchese.

“Of course, the no-vax people exist everywhere, even here.”

To try to convince them further, Italy’s government on Wednesday announced even more stringent restrictions on the unvaccinated, effectively barring them from hotels, gyms, restaurants and even public transport.

From January 10th, Italy’s ‘reinforced’ green pass – which shows proof of vaccination status or recovery from Covid-19 – will be required to access many places previously accessible to the unvaccinated via a negative Covid test.

The government also scrapped a seven-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case, amid concerns that the country would grind to a halt with millions of people forced to stay home.

Q&A: What are Italy’s new Covid quarantine rules?

The new curbs, aimed at increasing vaccination rates further amid the new wave of contagion, were announced as Italy soared past the symbolic threshold of 100,000 new daily cases to a total of 126,888 on Thursday.

The test positivity rate rose from 9.5 percent on Wednesday to 11 percent.

Intensive care cases are up by 41 to 1,226, and hospital admissions up 288, now totalling 10,866.

Member comments

  1. It’s funny when you put the facts in context it doesn’t chime with the alarmist narrative.

    “Whereas 10 percent of all Italy’s intensive care beds were occupied by Covid patients on December 17, that number has crept up to 13 percent in the past two days”

    13%? Can you try to compare this to the historical average % taken up by respiratory diseases pre-Covid? Can you please also report on the average age of the people in intensive care? Also – how many people are in hospital for other conditions but tested positive also for Covid?

    The lack of context in all Covid reporting here is worrying, look at the government websites, in 2018 approx 1700 people died every day in Italy. We have the vaccine now, we’ve taken the booster doses, people shouldn’t be terrified into an authoritarian state.

    1. This is an excellent response to fearmongering like this. Every single year in winter, newspapers in Italy and the UK are full of articles bemoaning the lack of space in ICUs. What about publishing an article like one I saw in Le Figaro about what life is like in South Africa right now. My friends all celebrated New Year’s eve on the beach, teens hung out together, people are careful but relaxed. And most are very pro early treatment. We need to recalibrate the response in Europe.

  2. Hmm, while there is a general shortage of trend analysis, the fact that 20% of hospital beds (in Piemonte at least) are occupied by COVID patients (no idea or curiosity as to what proportion are vaccinated) does have implications for the capacity of other departments. On the question of excess deaths (no analysis of causes, I agree), look at euromomo for data,

  3. A friend pointed out to me that January in South Africa is their summertime, and the Covid loads go down almost everywhere in summer as people gather outside rather than inside. From the start we were told that few cases seemed to be transmitted in the open air. This may explain part of it.

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MAP: Where are Covid infection rates rising fastest in Italy?

Covid numbers throughout Italy have risen in recent weeks, with the regions of Lombardy and Veneto reporting particularly high infection rates. We look at the latest stats and explore what they mean.

MAP: Where are Covid infection rates rising fastest in Italy?

What’s the overall picture?

Italy’s Covid infection rate continues to rise, although at a slower rate this week.

The health ministry recorded 58,360 new cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday night, down from the 65,925 seen last Tuesday, which was the peak of the autumn wave so far.

Some 329,569 tests were recorded in 24 hours, with the test positivity rate rising from 16 to 17.7 percent in a week.

Meanwhile the numbers of recorded hospitalisations and fatalities also continue to rise.

Infection rates have been rising in Italy since the start of October. Health experts said this increase was expected after the mass return to work and school in September after the summer holidays.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the situation is not the same across the country. Regions are reporting significant variations in infection rates.

Which regions are worst affected?

Analysis of official data this week showed that the sharpest increases over the past two weeks in percentage terms were in Valle d’Aosta, Emilia Romagna, and Sardinia

However the highest numbers of cases overall were in the most populous of Italy’s northern regions, as has been the case since the start of the pandemic.

Numbers are much lower in southern regions, though in some cases are high in percentage terms relative to the population.

Italy is currently recording around 40,000 new Covid cases per day, around 7,700 of which are in the region of Lombardy, around Milan, and some 5,000 in Veneto, of which Venice is the capital.

Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany follow, as the map below shows.

Veneto has the higher rate of cases per 100,000 people, at 104, while Lombardy’s rate stands at 79.

The region with the highest number of cases per 100,000 people overall was neighbouring Trentino-Alto-Adige, with 131, which represents 1,405 new daily cases on average.

In percentage terms over the past two weeks, cases in Veneto rose by +63 percent, in Lombardy +84 percent, and Trentino-Alto-Adige +68.

The small region of Valle d’Aosta recorded the highest percentage increase in cases, at +186, which amounts to around 118 new infections per day.

In the same time frame, the sparsely populated southern region of Basilicata had the smallest increase at +29 percent, followed by Abruzzo with +40.

The graph below shows the relationship between cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the percentage increase in cases.

The positioning of the regions are indicative of the incidence rate per 100,000 over the past two weeks, shown on the horizontal axis, and the percentage increase in cases in the past week.

What do the rising numbers mean for Italy?

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the number of serious cases resulting in hospitalisations, intensive care referrals, and deaths has risen a couple of weeks after the increase in ne

Many medical experts have said that, with more than 90 percent of the Italian population vaccinated, they expect most people to experience mild cases of Covid this autumn and winter.

The main concern related to rising Covid numbers is that rising infection rates will mean staff shortages in hospitals and other critical services.

People still have to isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 14 days in Italy if they get a positive test result.

At the time of writing, Italy is days away from forming a new government following elections last month and a new health minister could mean a different approach to managing the pandemic.

It’s not known whether the new Italian government will consider bringing back any health restrictions if case numbers continue to rise.

However, the far-right Brothers of Italy party, which won elections on September 25th, said this week it is still against the reintroduction of Italy’s green pass health certificate or any vaccination requirements.

Under the outgoing government, the most recent updates from the health ministry confirmed that it continues to monitor the situation and advised those in vulnerable groups, including the over-60s, to get a booster jab this winter.

Find a guide to booking a Covid-19 booster jab in each region of Italy here.

You can follow The Local’s news updates on the Covid-19 situation in Italy here.