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Italian doctors urge UK to prepare for impact of coronavirus as footage shows A&E overrun with patients

Constant stream of people arriving at Italian hospitals operating well beyond capacity, as country’s death toll exceeds China’s

Harry Cockburn
Friday 20 March 2020 18:30 GMT
Coronavirus: Harrowing footage from Italy hospital showing A+E overrun with coronavirus patients

Italian doctors are urging other countries to lockdown and prepare, as alarming footage shows the struggle healthcare workers are having at the front line of the fight against the coronavirus crisis in Italy.

Footage recorded by Sky News in Bergamo in the Lombardy region of northern Italy – the epicentre of the epidemic in Europe – shows patients, whose faces are obscured or blurred out, “literally gasping for air”.

What appears to be an intensive care unit is revealed to be a standard emergency ward, while other patients are seen on beds and chairs in the corridors of the hospital.

The Intensive Care Unit is full.

Patients are seen wearing plastic bubbles over their heads which are designed to equalise the air pressure with that in their lungs, but they also impede communication between hospital staff and patients.

One doctor, Lorenzo Grazioli, who worked in Leicester for over a year, told Sky reporter Stuart Ramsey: “I have never felt so stressed in my life, I’m an intensivist, and I am quite used to intense moments, and the choices, and people are critical and die without any treatment, and you [usually] make the difference.

“But when you are at this point you realise that you are not enough.”

Meanwhile, the arrival of new patients at the hospital is constant. While normally any patient exhibiting symptoms as severe as many are experiencing would go straight to intensive care, this is no longer an option for the overwhelmed hospital.

Coronavirus patients in Bergamo in northern Italy wear plastic bubbles which equalise the pressure of the air they are breathing with that in their lungs (Sky/screengrab)

Dr Roberto Cosentini, who also works at the hospital said comparisons to influenza were erroneous.

“It’s a very severe pneumonia, and so it’s a massive strain for every health system, because we see every day 50 to 60 patients who come to our emergency department with pneumonia, and most of them are so severe they need very high volumes of oxygen,” he said.

“Here they are calling it the apocalypse, and this is what it looks like,” Mr Ramsey says in the video for which he had to don a full protective suit to make the report.

Italy, with 60 million citizens, recorded 3,405 deaths overnight, exceeding the 3,248 in China – a country with a population more than 20 times larger.

The illness is mild in most people, but the elderly are particularly susceptible to serious symptoms.

One reason Italy’s death toll has been so high in comparison to other countries is it has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of those who have died, 87 per cent, were over 70 years old.

As the hospitals have become rapidly overloaded with patients, the workload for many doctors has been insurmountable and resources have become scarce, also pushing the death toll up.

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