13 Marzo 2020

It’ s like a war, says nurse on the frontline

A nurse on the frontline of Italy’ s coronavirus outbreak has described the experience as war-like. Doctors and nurses are working around the clock as the country tries to halt the spread of a virus that had claimed more than 1,000 lives by yesterday. Among the dead was a 59-year-old doctor and close friend of Roberta Re, a nurse at Piacenza hospital in Emilia-Romagna, the region with the second highest number of cases. “It’ s an experience I would compare to a world war,” Re told the Guardian. “But it’ s a war that isn’ t fightable with traditional arms as we don’ t yet know who the enemy is, and so it’ s difficult to fight. The only weapon we do have to avoid things getting even worse is to stay at home and to respect the rules – to do what they did in China, as this is paying off.” Italy, which has the worst coronavirus outbreak outside China, tightened quarantine restrictions yesterday after the death toll leapt 31% in 24 hours. The total number of people infected since the epidemic began reached 12,462 on Wednesday. “I’ m usually a happy person, chatting and joking with everyone but now there are days when I cry and am depressed,” added Re. Other medics at the centre of the outbreak have made harrowing pleas over social media and shared images of exhausted staff as their hospitals buckle under the pressure. Andrea Vercelli, who works in the emergency unit at Piacenza hospital, said in a Facebook video: “What we are experiencing is not a normal flu; we are getting 40 cases a day of pneumonia in the emergency room.” Daniele Macchini, a doctor at Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, the Italian province with the largest number of cases (1,815), wrote on Facebook a few days before the entire country was quarantined: “The situation is nothing short of dramatic. The war has exploded and the battle is uninterrupted, day and night.” Codacons, Italy’ s main consumer association, asked prosecutors in Bergamo to investigate after an anaesthetist in the intensive care unit at the city’ s Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital told Corriere della Sera that the pressure was so immense that saving a life “is decided by age and health conditions as in situations of war”. Of the 3,852 people hospitalised for the illness in Lombardy, 560 were in intensive care. “In no case can age be a discriminating factor when it comes to public health, and it certainly cannot be a criterion to decide who to treat and who not to treat,” Carlo Rienzi, the president of Codacons, said. “A shortage of beds must not lead to choices like those described by the doctor.” The virus has infected many doctors and nurses as they worked. Roberto Stella, the president of the order of doctors in Varese, Lombardy, died on Wednesday. The 67-year-old was tending to patients until he went into intensive care last Friday. “He died a hero, like other colleagues who have died in recent days,” said Saverio Chiaravalle, vicepresident of the Varese doctors’ order. The prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, repeated his call for Italians to stay at home as he announced the closure of shops, bars and restaurants across the country on Wednesday. “People need to understand that the situation is very serious,” said Re. “The fundamental thing is to close everything as well as to educate adolescents to have an idea of how serious this is.”
angela giuffrida

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