Italy imposed tougher restrictions on another five regions today as it tries to bring the second wave of coronavirus under control without a full-scale national lockdown.
Seven of Italy’s 20 regions are now ‘orange’ zones, the middle of three tiers, after a new decree signed by health minister Roberto Speranza overnight.
The measures mean that Abruzzo, Basilicata, Ligura, Tuscany and Umbria – with a combined population of eight million – will join Sicily and Puglia and closing bars and restaurants while forbidding residents from travelling to other regions.
Another four regions are in the ‘red’ zone, including Lombardy, with most shops, bars and restaurants shut and people’s movement restricted.
Medical staffers stand at a checkpoint today which was set up to sort patients at Monza’s hospital emergency ward following a surge in cases in Italy
Seven of Italy’s 20 regions are now in the orange zone, while another four are in the highest-tier red zone including populous Lombardy in the north
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is trying to avoid a repeat of the national lockdown imposed earlier this year, when Italy became the first European country to be hit by Covid-19.
The regional approach was introduced last Friday, alongside a nationwide curfew requiring Italy’s 60million residents to stay indoors from 10pm to 5am.
But cases have spiralled and health experts including a national federation of medical associations have called for tougher restrictions across the country.
The surge in hospitalisations is straining the country’s health system, and doctors warn that Italy could suffer 10,000 fatalities in the next month on current trends.
Massimo Galli, the head of the infectious diseases department at Milan’s renowned Sacco hospital, warned on Monday that the situation was ‘largely out of control’.
‘Other illnesses don’t go on strike because Covid exists and we have to get organised… otherwise the pandemic will end up doing damage that goes beyond the already very sad number of deaths,’ he added.
Gianni Rezzi, the director of prevention within the health ministry, said on Tuesday the worsening situation in Italy ‘justifies restrictive measures.’
‘We have more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and almost all Italian regions are heavily affected,’ he said.
Cars and ambulances were queuing outside a Naples hospital on Monday amid fears that the growing number of hospital patients will lead to a disastrous death toll
Italian media reported that the ministry could also designate the southern region of Campania as an orange zone, amid a surge of cases in Naples overwhelming hospitals.
Across the country, cases are approaching one million after nearly 229,000 new infections were reported in the last week alone.
Deaths have reached 41,750 and the daily figure is back up to nearly 400 a day, still below the peak of 969 in the spring but up from an average of 24 only a month ago.
Filippo Anelli, the head of the national doctors’ association, said at the current infection rate, there soon will not be enough physicians to go around.
‘The situation could become tragic. … We need drastic measures, such as a total lockdown,’ said Anelli.
In Naples, nurses started checking on people as they sat in cars and ambulances outside emergency rooms, waiting for space to free up.
Italy has a total of 11,000 ICU beds, but only enough anaesthesiologists for 5,000 patients, Mr Anelli said.
As of Monday, 2,849 ICU beds were filled nationwide – up 100 from just the day before.
For the average coronavirus patient with serious symptoms, it takes seven to 10 days to go from infection to hospital admission.