A doctor on the front line of Italy’s fight against coronavirus has described the epidemic as a “disaster” and warned the public is underestimating the threat posed by the disease because of a “war on panic”.
In a dramatic account of conditions at his hospital in the northeastern city of Bergamo, Daniele Macchini said the outbreak was a “tsunami that has overwhelmed us”, with cases multiplying daily.
“The war has literally exploded and battles are uninterrupted day and night,” said the surgeon at Humanitas Gavazzeni in Lombardy, one of the country’s worst affected areas.
Italy has recorded 9,172 cases of the virus, formally known as Covid-19, and 463 deaths.
The government has ordered a sweeping lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the disease, with travel restrictions, bans on public events, and school closures enforced across the country.
Dr Macchini urged the public, and especially young people, not to be complacent about the danger of the disease and mistakenly assume it is a “banal” flu.
“While there are still people on social networks who boast of not being afraid by ignoring directions, protesting because their normal routine is ‘temporarily’ put in crisis, an epidemiological disaster is taking place,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“Cases are multiplying, we arrive at a rate of 15-20 hospitalisations per day all for the same reason. The results of the swabs now come one after the other: positive, positive, positive. Suddenly the emergency room is collapsing.”
He added: “There are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopaedists, we are only doctors who suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us.”
Dr Macchini criticised what he described as a “war on panic”, adding: “Is panic really worse than neglect and carelessness during an epidemic of this sort?”
“When the message of the dangerousness of what is happening does not reach people I shudder,” he said.
Misinformation about coronavirus has begun to circulate on social media, fuelled by the likes Donald Trump. The US president has repeatedly suggested Covid-19 is no worse than common flu, accusing the media of inflaming the crisis even as his Republican colleagues quarantine themselves out of concerns about exposure to the disease which has killed 27 Americans.
Dr Macchini said: “One after the other the unfortunate people come to the emergency room. They have far from the complications of a flu. Let's stop saying it's a bad flu.
“The boards with the names of the patients, of different colours depending on the operating unit, are now all red and instead of surgery you see the diagnosis, which is always the damned same: bilateral interstitial pneumonia.
“Now, explain to me which flu virus causes such a rapid drama. Sorry, but to me as a doctor it doesn't reassure me that the most serious are mainly elderly people with other pathologies."
He admitted that he and his colleagues, as their hospital was “emptied” and intensive care “freed up to create as many beds as possible” before an influx of cases, were initially unsure the outbreak “would ever come with such ferocity”.
But he added: “Well, the situation now is dramatic to say the least.
“There are no more shifts, no more hours. Social life is suspended for us. We no longer see our families for fear of infecting them. Some of us have already become infected despite the protocols.
“Some of our colleagues who are infected also have infected relatives and some of their relatives are already struggling between life and death. So be patient, you can't go to the theatre, museums or the gym. Try to have pity on the myriad of old people you could exterminate.
“Please share this message. We must spread the word to prevent what is happening here from happening all over Italy."
The Facebook post has been shared more than 29,000 times since Saturday.
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