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Italian doctors urge tougher restrictions fearing 'tsunami' on hospitals

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Italian doctors have urged the government to impose more aggressive measures to contain escalating infections over fears of a coronavirus “tsunami” on hospitals.

Giuseppe Conte’s government is working towards a “light lockdown” to avoid paralysing the country, Sandra Zampa, a health ministry undersecretary said before a meeting with regional presidents to thrash out an agreement that could see shutdowns only in badly affected and at-risk regions.

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Other possible measures, expected to be finalised later on Tuesday, include a 9pm nationwide curfew, a ban on travel to at-risk regions, the closure of shopping centres at weekends and closure of museums.

For weeks, medics and scientists, including those advising the health ministry, have urged the government to enact tougher measures as infections escalated and hospitals came under strain.

“Our worry is that this second wave won’t be a coastal storm, but a tsunami that could overwhelm the national health system,” Filippo Anelli, the president of the Italian order of doctors, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “That’s why we’re asking the government for more aggressive measures.”

Anelli said hospital beds were filling up with Covid-19 patients, reducing the ability of hospitals to guarantee care to other patients.

“If we keep going like this, the situation could get out of control,” he added.

The number of people in intensive care with coronavirus has exceeded 2,000. Italian media reported in October that the government would evaluate another national lockdown if intensive care admissions eclipsed a 2,300 threshold. The daily infection rate has more than doubled since 17 October, rising by 28,244 on Tuesday. The death toll has also been increasing, with 353 more coronavirus fatalities recorded on Tuesday – the highest daily toll of the second wave so far.

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Zampa said the new measures would be “tailor-made” to each region. Restrictions per region could be determined by the rate of Covid-19 transmission, the number of infections and people with symptoms and the availability of hospital beds.

“It will not be a rigid lockdown, but similar to the German model, light,” Zampa said.

Conte said on Monday that intensive care capacity would be at risk in 15 of Italy’s 20 regions within a month unless new measures were enacted. Tuesday’s decree will be fourth in less than a month. Last week, bars and restaurants were last week forced to close from 6pm, and gyms, cinemas and theatres closed completely, sparking protests across the country. Nightly curfews are already in place in regions including Lombardy, Piedmont, Lazio and Campania.

Conte has so far stopped short of ordering another national lockdown, leaving it up to regional leaders of badly-affected areas to impose one. However this provoked a battle as regional governors shied away from making unpopular decisions amid ongoing protests against restrictions.

Walter Ricciardi, a scientific adviser to Italy’s health ministry, told the Guardian on Monday that the government was “wasting time”.

“Like in other European countries, politicians haven’t had the courage to make prompt decisions at the right time,” he said. “Now, with every hour that passes we are moving even further towards a national lockdown.”



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