Italy’s health system at limit in virus-struck Lombardy

MILAN (AP) – The coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy has so overwhelmed the public health system that officials are taking extraordinary measures to care for the sick, seeking to bring doctors out of retirement and accelerate graduation dates for nursing students.

The region of Lombardy is the epicentre of Italy’s outbreak, registering the first positive test of the northern cluster and now counting at least 1,254 of Italy’s 2,036 cases. Alarmingly, 10 per cent of Lombardy’s doctors and nurses cannot work because they tested positive for the virus and are in quarantine, the region’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, said on Monday.

With officials expecting Italy’s numbers to continue rising for at least another week, until containment measures begin to show their effect, the health care emergency in Lombardy has reached a crisis point.

Hospitals in hard-hit Lodi and Cremona were so overwhelmed at times last week, with more sick people arriving than could be accepted, that they closed their emergency rooms and new patients were taken elsewhere.

“Effectively some of the hospitals in Lombardy are under a stress that is much heavier than what this area can support,” Head of Infectious Disease at Milan’s Sacco Hospital Dr Massimo Galli told Sky TG24.

“This epidemic is on a scale that is larger than anyone could have thought, imagined or prevented.”

Still, the north’s intensive care sections of hospitals are still able to handle their case loads, the head of the national Civil Protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, told reporters.

Some nine per cent of people diagnosed with the COVID-19 need intensive care, Borrelli said.

Tourists wearing a protective respiratory mask tour the Colosseo monument in Rome. PHOTO: AFP