“I’m sorry if you have difficulties hearing me; it’s because of the face mask,” says Dr. Jean Pierre Ramponi, Director of Chiari Hospital in northern Italy, over the phone. “We are tired, we are all holding out. The situation has been the same for the past two weeks; so far the number of new incoming patients does not seem to slow down.”
The Chiari Hospital is at the front line of Italy’s battle against the coronavirus, which has claimed 3,405 lives in the past few weeks according to the Italian Civil Protection Department, surpassing on Thursday the death toll in China, where the virus first appeared.
On Wednesday in Bergamo, not too far from Chiari, a parade of military trucks transported 60 coffins to be cremated in nearby cities. The only crematorium in Bergamo, working 24/7, is unable to cope with the surging number of deaths in the area.
Earlier this month, Italy became the first Western country to launch a nationwide lockdown to contain the outbreak.
Italy has a universal health care system. But now, its hospitals and medical staff are overwhelmed, prompting anguished debate between doctors about who gets to be treated first.