Italy could be creeping towards a second national lockdown as medical professionals and doctors’ unions insist the measures taken by the government are not enough to halt the alarming spread of Covid-19.
The pandemic appears to be worsening rapidly: on Wednesday, another 623 deaths were recorded, the highest number since early April, when Italy was in the grip of the first wave of the pandemic.
It brought the total number of deaths in Italy to nearly 43,000. There were another 33,000 new cases, adding to the 35,000 new cases on Tuesday.
More than a million Italians have been infected with the virus since the pandemic was first detected in late February.
Despite the escalating situation, the government is desperately trying to avoid a second national lockdown. Currently, Italy is divided into three categories according to the severity of the situation – red, orange and yellow zones.
In red zones, people are only allowed to leave home for work or to buy essential supplies, while non-essential shops are closed. Five regions so far are in this category: Lombardy, which includes Milan, Piedmont, encompassing Turin, Trentino-Alto Adige in the Dolomites, tiny Val d’Aosta on the French border, and Calabria in the far south.
Several other regions have been bumped up from yellow, in which the most lenient restrictions are in place, to orange in the last few days.
The government hopes the measures it has taken will bear fruit in the next few days, bringing down the curve of infections. But if they do not, there is speculation that a new national lockdown could be declared this weekend.
An association of Italian GPs has backed this move, calling for the entire country to be placed back under lockdown, the second national medical association to do so. “I would declare a red zone for the whole of Italy,” said Silvestro Scotti, the head of the Italian federation of GPs.
The current situation of localised lockdown measures was a confusing “jigsaw puzzle”, he added.
Earlier this week, the president of the Italian federation of medical guilds also called for a return to “total lockdown”.
But Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, says the government is working hard to avert a second lockdown so as not to damage further Italy’s already battered economy. “We are constantly monitoring the situation and our health system’s capacity to respond,” he told La Stampa, a national daily, on Wednesday.
“The curve is rising, it is true, but I believe that in the next few days it will start to bend as a result of the measures we have adopted.”
But as tens of thousands of new cases are reported each day, the health system is under immense strain. Silvio Brusaferro, the head of Italy's Higher Health Institute, said there was a danger that intensive care units would be overwhelmed by the number of new patients.
“There is a high probability in the whole country of saturation for intensive care departments within a month,” he said on Tuesday. “We find ourselves in a high-risk situation with a need for mitigation measures to slow the virus.”
At one hospital in Naples, doctors took oxygen to patients as they queued outside in their cars, waiting for treatment.
An association of doctors and nurses said many hospitals across the country were nearing breaking point.
“The hospitals are close to collapse because of the shortage of personnel and the lack of beds in the face of an abnormal flow of patients because of the rapid and vertiginous spread of Covid-19 infections,” the association said.