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On the front lines of coronavirus: the Italian response to covid-19

Italy has rapidly become the country hit second hardest in the world by the coronavirus pandemic. Marta Paterlini reports in the BMJ on the front lines of a country in total lockdown.

The resulting government imposed state of emergency lockdown, which started in northern Italy and has expanded to the whole country, will last until at least 3 April in an attempt to contain a contagion that has, at the time of writing, infected over 24 747 people (including at least 2026 healthcare staff) and killed 1809. The fatality rate of 7.2 is now higher than in China (3.8).

Italian doctors describe a warlike scenario in hospitals, with fewer places available than there are patients in critical condition. Lombardy, the region around Milan and the most affected in the country, has around 1000 beds available for patients in need of intensive care, but they are near to saturation.

Italy is experiencing a chronic shortage of healthcare workers. On 9 March the government announced a plan to add 20 000 new doctors, nurses, and hospital employees to meet demand.567 Retired doctors may be called on, as well as students who have completed their medical degree and are in the final year of specialist training.

Meanwhile, medical authorities are trying to avoid quarantining doctors who have come into contact with coronavirus patients. They are encouraged to work unless they show symptoms of the infection or test positive. Specialist physicians such as gastroenterologists and cardiologists have been asked to work outside of their fields.

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Source: BMJ, 16 March 2020


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