Italy may be on wrong path in fighting coronavirus contagion: scientist

Italy may be on wrong path in fighting coronavirus contagion: scientist
By Stefano Bernabei

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s measures to halt coronavirus contagion do not seem to be working and it should change its strategy by setting up centers to separate people with suspected symptoms from their families, a prominent Italian scientist said on Monday.

Italy, which has suffered the world’s highest death toll from coronavirus, has been in nationwide lockdown for about three weeks, but in the last three days new infections have continued at between 5,000 and 6,000 per day.

The highest daily death toll since the outbreak began on Feb. 21 was registered on Friday, with 919 fatalities, and the tally was only slightly lower in the following two days.

Andrea Crisanti, professor of microbiology at Padua University, said in an interview with Radio Capital that many of these new cases are probably people who are being infected by fellow family members at home.

Crisanti said that instead of telling people with mild symptoms to self-isolate at home, the authorities should have set up centers to separate them from their families, as was done in China where the epidemic originated in December.

“Is someone posing the problem of why, despite all these restrictive measures, we are still seeing infections? Are they asking if all these people who are sick at home are infecting other members of their family?” he said.

“In our opinion, the infections are happening at home.”

Crisanti helped coordinate the coronavirus response in Italy’s affluent northeastern region of Veneto, where blanket testing was introduced at the start of Italy’s outbreak in the second half of February.

That helped identify cases and limit contagion much more successfully than in the neighboring Lombardy region where only people with severe symptoms are tested, and only in hospitals.

Lombardy has since been hit with 6,360 registered coronavirus deaths, far more than any other Italian region, whereas Veneto has recorded just 392 fatalities. However, the Lombardy outbreak was much bigger from the outset.

Crisanti argued that a similar approach to the one carried out in Veneto should now be conducted nationwide.

“We need to be much more aggressive in identifying people who are sick at home,” he said.

“We need to go to their homes, test them, test their family members, their friends and neighbors, and all the people who test positive should be taken, if they are well enough, to accommodation centers outside their homes.”

Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection Agency, said the ongoing rate of contagion and deaths did not mean the national government’s measures were ineffective.

“Without these measures we would be seeing far worse numbers and our health service would be in a far more dramatic state,” Borrelli told reporters at the weekend.

(Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Italy coronavirus deaths rise by 756, lifting total death toll to 10,779

ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy climbed by 756 to 10,779, the Civil Protection Agency said on Sunday, the second successive fall in the daily rate.

The number of fatalities, by far the highest of any country in the world, account for more than a third of all deaths from the infectious virus worldwide.

Italy’s largest daily toll was registered on Friday, when 919 people died. There were 889 deaths on Saturday.

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy rose on Sunday to 97,689 from a previous 92,472, the lowest daily rise in new cases since Wednesday.

Of those infected nationwide, 13,030 had fully recovered on Sunday, compared to 12,384 the day before. There were 3,906 people in intensive care, up from the previous 3,856.

Lombardy, the hardest hit Italian region, reported a rise in deaths of around 416 on Sunday.

More than 662,700 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 30,751 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti)

Coronavirus rages on, putting strain on U.S. doctors, nurses

By Gabriella Borter and Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. doctors and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak came under increasing stress on Friday as the number of cases skyrocketed and hospital staff were forced to ration care for an overwhelming number of patients.

The United States surpassed two grim milestones on Thursday. The death toll soared past 1,000, reaching 1,261 by the end of the day, and the total number of infections topped 85,000, exceeding the national totals of China and Italy to make the United States the world leader in confirmed cases.

Worldwide, confirmed cases rose above 550,000 and deaths 25,000, the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center reported on Friday.

“This is past a movie plot. Nobody could ever think of this, or be totally prepared for this. You’re going to have to wing it on the fly,” said Eric Neibart, infectious disease specialist and clinical assistant professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “The scale is unbelievable.”

After days of wrangling, the U.S. Congress may soon respond with a $2.2 trillion relief package, reinforcing an extraordinary array of economic measures that the U.S. Federal Reserve rolled out on Monday.

Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives said they expected to pass the measure on Friday, sending the bill to President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign it.

In addition to aiding hospitals in hot spots such as New York and New Orleans, the package will bring welcome relief to businesses and unemployed workers. With much of the country on lockdown, a record 3.3 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, nearly five times the previous record set during the recession of 1982.

The counties surrounding Chicago and Detroit were also emerging as areas of concern, said Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

One emergency room doctor in Michigan said he was using one paper face mask for an entire shift due to a shortage and that his hospital would soon run out of ventilators, the machines needed by sufferers of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, to help them breathe.

The doctor, Rob Davidson, urged Trump to use his executive authority to procure more test kits and ventilators.

“We have hospital systems here in the Detroit area in Michigan who are getting to the end of their supply of ventilators and have to start telling families that they can’t save their loved ones because they don’t have enough equipment,” Davidson said in a video he posted on Twitter.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said any realistic scenario about the unfolding outbreak would overwhelm the healthcare system. His state, which has become the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with more than 37,000 cases and 385 deaths, is scrambling to create more sick beds.

It is looking to convert hotel rooms, office space and other venues into healthcare centers, while setting up a convention center as a temporary hospital. Some hospitals are scrambling to convert cafeterias and atriums into hospital rooms to house intensive care patients.

Mount Sinai hospital had 215 inpatients with COVID-19 as of Thursday.

“The fear is next week we’ll have 400,” Neibart said, expecting a shortage of doctors and nurses.

In lighter moments, Neibart said he and his colleagues joke about claiming their own makeshift spots, for when they inevitably fall ill with the virus, although he said they routinely check on one another’s well being.

COVID-19 claimed the life of Kious Kelly, a Mount Sinai nurse manager whose death has led to an outpouring of remembrances from former colleagues.

“I remember him running crazy, checking on us and making sure we were OK,” Diana Torres, a nurse at Mount Sinai, told Reuters. “He would deliver our messages to administration if we weren’t happy. He wanted good things for us.”

Torres and other colleagues have also infused their tributes with angry messages about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“It seems like we are fighting the government, (the hospital) administration and the virus,” Torres said. “We can tackle one, but not all at once.”

The New York Police Department also announced the first coronavirus death among its ranks on Thursday. Custodial Assistant Dennis Dickson was a 14-year veteran, NYPD said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs may be asked to help in New York, even as it struggles to provide enough staffing and equipment for armed forces veterans.

Maria Lobifaro, a New York intensive care unit (ICU) nurse treating veterans with COVID-19, said staff normally change masks after every patient interaction. Now, they are getting one N95 mask to use for an entire 12-hour shift.

The ratio of patients to nurses in the ICU is usually two-to-one. As of Monday it was four-to-one, she said.

“Right now we can barely handle the veterans that we have,” Lobifaro said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Nick Brown and Maria Caspani in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta)

Italy coronavirus deaths rise by 662 in a day, lifting total death toll to 8,165

ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has grown by 662 to 8,165, the Civil Protection Agency said on Thursday.

However, there appeared to be an error in the agency’s data because it reported no deaths on Thursday in the third-worst-affected region, Piedmont, which would be unprecedented in recent days.

Separately, Piedmont authorities said their death toll had risen by 50 in the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday 683 people died. That followed 743 deaths on Tuesday, 602 on Monday, 650 on Sunday and a record of 793 on Saturday — the highest daily figure since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21.

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy rose to 80,539 from a previous 74,386, the Civil Protection Agency said — the highest number of new cases since March 21.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 10,361 had fully recovered on Thursday compared to 9,362 the day before. There were 3,612 people in intensive care against a previous 3,489.

The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy reported a steep rise in fatalities compared with the day before and remains in a critical situation, with a total of 4,861 deaths and 34,889 cases.

That compared with 4,474 deaths and 32,346 cases reported up to Wednesday.

(Reporting By Gavin Jones, editing by Crispian Balmer)

Tempers flare in Italy as coronavirus toll keeps climbing

Tempers flare in Italy as coronavirus toll keeps climbing
MILAN (Reuters) – From insults for dog walkers to furious local officials telling residents to stay home and people from other regions to stay out, Italians’ forbearance is fraying as their coronavirus epidemic enters its second month.

As Italy’s death toll has climbed past 5,000 and overtaken even China’s, early scenes of communal singing from balconies are giving way to muttered asides and resentment against those seen to be flouting bans on public gatherings.

“I’m getting word that someone is having a graduation party,” Vincenzo De Luca, governor of the southern Campania region around Naples, raged on Facebook. “We’ll send in the carabinieri (paramilitary police), we’ll send them in with a flamethrower!”

A video compilation of furious and often foul-mouthed rants from mayors exasperated at undisciplined locals playing table tennis in the open or going for walks outside has been shared tens of thousands of times.

There has also been bitterness at people trying to leave the worst-affected regions of northern Italy for the south, which has so far had fewer cases, but has health services that are much weaker than those in rich regions such as Lombardy, where the crisis erupted a month ago.

Nello Musumeci, governor of the island of Sicily, at Italy’s southern tip, said on Monday that too many people were crossing from the mainland and Sicilians were not willing to be “slaughtered”.

Opinion polls show widespread support for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government, which has imposed ever tighter travel restrictions and stepped up calls for people to stay at home.

But at the same time, some officials worry about the fraying tempers.

The mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, said she received reports every day of people being insulted from nearby balconies or photographed and put on social media, including in one case, a supermarket employee going to work.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be infected by the virus of rage, she told the daily La Repubblica.

The term “untori” (“plague spreaders”), a reference to sinister figures blamed for spreading disease in “I promessi sposi” (“The Betrothed”), a literary classic taught to generations of Italian schoolchildren, has made a return as the search for scapegoats has flared.

Nathalie Sitzia, mayor of the town of Casaletto, near where the virus first appeared in a small town outside Milan, said the climate of general suspicion was being fed by fear.

“Today people are afraid of everything, people report their neighbours when they take the dog for a walk,” she said.

“We were used to hearing bells for the dead ring once a month from our church. Hearing them every day is terrible, psychologically.”

(Reporting by Emilio Parodi, Gianluca Semeraro, Elisa Anzolin, James Mackenzie; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Italy coronavirus deaths rise by 651 in a day, lifting total death toll to 5,476

Italy coronavirus deaths rise by 651 in a day, lifting total death toll to 5,476
ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has risen by 651 to 5,476, officials said on Sunday, an increase of 13.5% but down on Saturday’s figure when some 793 people died.

The total number of cases in Italy rose to 59,138 from a previous 53,578, an increase of 10.4%, the Civil Protection Agency said — the lowest rise in percentage terms since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 7,024 had fully recovered on Sunday compared to 6,072 the day before. There were 3,009 people in intensive care against a previous 2,857.

The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remained in a critical situation, with 3,456 deaths and 27,206 cases against a previously given 3,095 and 25,515 respectively.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer, editing by Giselda Vagnoni)

Coronavirus deaths rocket in Italy at 4,032 and alarmed regions impose more restrictions

By Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s coronavirus death toll soared on Friday and regions imposed new restrictions in an increasingly desperate effort to halt infections, with one banning walks in parks and another prohibiting jogging and bike rides.

“We already have many hundreds of dead. What more is needed before people understand the tragedy we are facing?” said Sergio Venturi, head of the coronavirus response team in the wealthy northern region of Emilia-Romagna.

The national death toll from the outbreak over the past 24 hours leapt by 627 to 4,032 – by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago.

Italy overtook China on Thursday as the country to register the most deaths from the virus. Before Friday, it had never recorded more than 475 fatalities in a single day.

The total number of cases climbed to 47,021 from a previous 41,035, the Civil Protection Agency said.

“Maybe the peak won’t come next week, but the week after,” Civil Protection chief Angelo Borrelli told Rai radio.

Responding to the growing crisis, the northern region of Veneto shut parks and said residents could no longer go for walks, while adjacent Emilia-Romagna banned jogging and bicycle rides, saying people had to stay indoors to prevent infections.

Lombardy, at the epicenter of the epidemic, said about 100 soldiers would soon be deployed to help local police enforce the lockdown, and called on the government to impose new measures to keep Italians at home.

Officials are especially worried by the situation in Lombardy’s capital and Italy’s second city, Milan.

The country’s largest cities had so far been relatively lightly hit by the outbreak, but there are now 3,804 people infected in the financial hub and its hinterland.

FILE PHOTO: A child wearing a protective face mask walks near the Colosseum, after a decree orders for the whole of Italy to be on lockdown in an unprecedented clampdown aimed at beating the coronavirus, in Rome, Italy, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

The number of new cases in and around Milan rose by 526, or 16%, the largest daily increase for any province in Lombardy.

“The frontline is now in Milan,” Massimo Galli, head of the infectious diseases unit at the city’s Sacco hospital, told La Repubblica newspaper. “I am extremely worried by what is happening … there are still too many people out and about.”

The government last week ordered restaurants, bars and most shops to shut down nationwide until March 25. In addition, it shut schools and universities and told everyone to stay at home for all but absolutely essential needs until April 3.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday the measures would have to be extended, but gave no further details.

Looking to boost morale, all Italian radio stations, for the first time, simultaneously broadcast the national anthem at 11.00 a.m. (1000 GMT), followed by three iconic songs, “Azzurro,” “La canzone del sole” and “Nel blu dipinto di blu”.

However, the national mood has grown gloomier this week as the death toll has risen inexorably.

“It feels like we are in another world. I don’t know, it is a really bad feeling. I hope it will finish soon because really, this it is not good,” said Rome resident Anna Marcotullio, 53.

(Reporting by Cristiano Corvino, Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones in Rome, Elisa Anzolin in Milan, Stephen Jewkes in Bologna, and Riccardo Bastianello in Veneto; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

Italy to use army to enforce coronavirus lockdown in worst-hit region

ROME (Reuters) – The president of Lombardy said on Friday the government had agreed to deploy the army in his region to enforce the lockdown against the coronavirus epidemic, which is not slowing down.

“(The request to use the army) has been accepted… and 114 soldiers will be on the ground throughout Lombardy… it is still too little, but it is positive,” Attilio Fontana told a news conference.

Lombardy has also asked the government to further tighten the restrictions already in place, which include the closure of all non-essential commercial activities and a ban on public gatherings.

Fontana, without giving numbers, added that contagion is still spreading in Lombardy, the Italian region which has so far registered by far the highest number of cases and deaths in Italy.

“Unfortunately we are not seeing a change of trend in the numbers, which are rising,” he said.

(Reporting by Elisa Anzolin, writing by Angelo Amante, editing by Gavin Jones)

Rich nations pump aid into battered economy as coronavirus deaths in Italy overtake China

By Guy Faulconbridge and James Mackenzie

LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) – The world’s richest nations poured unprecedented aid into the global economy on Thursday as coronavirus cases ballooned in the new epicenter Europe, with the number of deaths in Italy outstripping those in mainland China, where the virus originated.

With over 236,000 infections and more than 9,700 deaths, the epidemic has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres warned that a global recession, “perhaps of record dimensions”, was a near certainty.

“This is a moment that demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies,” Guterres told reporters via a video conference. “We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.”

Tourism and airlines have been particularly battered, as the world’s citizens hunker down to minimize contact and curb the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness. But few sectors have been spared by a crisis threatening a lengthy global recession.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expected closure of the United States-Canada border to come into effect overnight on Friday. The U.S. State Department is expected to urge Americans not to travel abroad at all.

Markets have suffered routs unseen since the 2008 financial debacle, with investors rushing to the U.S. dollar as a safe haven. Wall Street tried to bounce back on Thursday. The benchmark S&P 500 swung into positive territory after falling as much as 3.3% and was up about 1%. U.S. oil prices rose 20%.

Policymakers in the United States, Europe and Asia have slashed interest rates and opened liquidity taps to try to stabilize economies hit by quarantined consumers, broken supply chains, disrupted transport and paralyzed businesses.

The virus, thought to have originated from wildlife in mainland China late last year, has jumped to 172 other nations and territories with more than 20,000 new cases reported in the past 24 hours – a new daily record.

Cases in Germany, Iran and Spain rose to more than 12,000 each. An official in Tehran tweeted that the coronavirus was killing one person every 10 minutes.


Britain, which has reported 144 deaths, was closing dozens of underground stations in London and ordering schools shut from Friday.

Some 20,000 soldiers were on standby, Queen Elizabeth headed for sanctuary in the ancient castle of Windsor, and the Tower of London was to close along with other historic buildings.

“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe,” the 93-year-old monarch said in an address to the nation.

“I am certain we are up to that challenge. You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”

Italian soldiers transported corpses overnight from an overwhelmed cemetery in Europe’s worst-hit nation where 3,405 people have died, more than in mainland China. Germany’s military was also readying to help.

Supermarkets in many countries were besieged with shoppers stocking up on food staples and hygiene products. Some rationed sales and fixed special hours for the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness.

Solidarity projects were springing up in some of the world’s poorest corners. In Kenya’s Kibera slum, for example, volunteers with plastic drums and boxes of soap on motorbikes set up handwashing stations for people without clean water.

Russia reported its first coronavirus death on Thursday.

Amid the gloom, China provided a ray of hope as it reported zero new local transmissions of the virus, a sign of success for its draconian containment policies since January. Imported cases accounted for all 34 new infections in China.

In the United States, where President Donald Trump had initially played down the coronavirus threat, infections surged with over 10,700 known cases and at least 163 deaths.

Trump has infuriated Beijing’s Communist Party rulers by rebuking it for not acting faster and drawn accusations of racism by referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”.

“We continue our relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus,” he said in opening remarks at a briefing with his coronavirus task force on Thursday.

The head of the U.S. National Guard said tens of thousands of its troops could be activated to help U.S. states deal with the outbreak now in all 50 states.


In a bewildering raft of financial measures around the world, the European Central Bank launched new bond purchases worth 750 billion euros ($817 billion). That brought some relief to bond markets and also halted European shares’ slide.

The U.S. Federal Reserve rolled out its third emergency credit program in two days, aimed at keeping the $3.8 trillion money market mutual fund industry functioning. The Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1%, its second emergency rate cut in just over a week.

China was to unleash trillions of yuan of fiscal stimulus and South Korea pledged 50 trillion won ($39 billion).

The desperate state of industry was writ large in Detroit, where the big three automakers – Ford Motor Co <F.N>, General Motors Co <GM.N> and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI> <FCAU.N> – were shutting U.S. plants, as well as factories in Canada and Mexico.

With some economists fearing prolonged pain akin to the 1930s Great Depression and others anticipating a bounceback, gloomy data and forecasts abounded.

In one of the most dire calls, J.P. Morgan economists forecast the Chinese economy to drop more than 40% this quarter and the U.S. economy to shrink 14% in the next. Ratings agency Moody’s prepared for mass downgradings.

In Britain, small gin distilleries have started producing hand sanitizer amid a national shortage, a trend mirrored across the globe from Australia to the United States.

And Monaco canceled its showcase Formula One Grand Prix, the most famous and glamorous race on the calendar, in another high-profile sporting casualty of the epidemic.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux around the world; Writing by Marius Zaharia, Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Bill Berkrot)

Uncounted among coronavirus victims, deaths sweep through Italy’s nursing homes

By Emilio Parodi

MILAN (Reuters) – As the official death toll from Italy’s coronavirus outbreak passes 2,500, a silent surge in fatalities in nursing homes, where dozens of patients a day are dying untested for the virus, suggests the real total may be higher.

Official data show that nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed as positive for the coronavirus in Italy, the highest number outside China where the virus first emerged.

But strict testing rules mean only patients hospitalized with severe symptoms are normally being swab tested.

While no detailed data is available, officials, nurses and relatives say there has been a spike in nursing home deaths in the worst affected regions of northern Italy since the virus emerged, and they are not showing up in coronavirus statistics.

“There are significant numbers of people who have died but whose death hasn’t been attributed to the coronavirus because they died at home or in a nursing home and so they weren’t swabbed,” said Giorgio Gori, mayor of the town of Bergamo.

Gori said there had been 164 deaths in his town in the first two weeks of March this year, of which 31 were attributed to the coronavirus. That compares with 56 deaths over the same period last year.

Even adding the 31 coronavirus deaths to that total would leave 77 additional deaths, an increase that suggests the virus may have caused significantly more deaths than officially recorded.

Emilio Tanzi, director of Cremona Solidale, a 460-bed residence in the northern town of Cremona, said nursing homes were on the front lines of a crisis that predominantly affected the elderly, who nevertheless have not had adequate support.

He said there had been a significant and “anomalous” increase in deaths since about March 2, when the spread of the epidemic began to gather pace in Italy.

But there was no way of knowing for sure whether they were due to COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, he added.

Tanzi declined to give full numbers, but said on just one day last week there had been 18 deaths at his facility of patients with respiratory difficulties – symptoms associated with the coronavirus.

“We don’t know if there have been coronavirus deaths because the swabs haven’t been done,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen high fevers and breathing difficulties.”

“If we’d been in a position to know, we could have isolated these patients properly and avoided the epidemic.”


Immediately after the virus emerged in northern Italy on Feb. 21, care homes cut off access to visitors to limit the contagion risk to elderly patients most vulnerable to the disease.

Walter Montini, president of ARSAC, the association grouping 30 old people’s homes in Cremona province, said that at one small care home with 36 beds, there were 7 deaths in a day.

“There has obviously been an increase in deaths. You just have to look at the local daily (newspaper) in Cremona. Normally there’s a page of death notices. Today there were five.”

He launched an appeal for more masks for staff on March 2 but, given the shortages, hospitals were judged to have a greater need. He said staff needed to be tested but that was not happening.

Local health authorities say they have received government directions on testing and treatment which say that hospitalization is only indicated for patients with “significant respiratory symptoms.”

They say that so-called Residenze Sanitarie Assistenziali, or extended care residences, have qualified medical staff on hand able to take care of patients.

One nurse in an extended care facility in a small town in the area of Cremona believes the homes “have been abandoned.”

In her section, out of 40 people, 38 were in bed with high fevers, while care staff were forced to work without proper protective clothing. But with local hospitals already close to being overwhelmed by the thousands of new cases reported every day, transfers were proving impossible to organize.

“Whoever gets sick is looked after here, by the doctors in the facility,” she said. “We try to send cases with respiratory complications to hospital but out of 40 sick people in my facility, we’ve only managed to send two to hospital.”

A spokesman for the regional health authority in Lombardy said he could not comment but was seeking details. No comment was immediately available from the government in Rome.


In the absence of detailed data and testing, it is impossible to know exactly how many deaths in elderly care homes may be due to COVID-19 or to other causes like seasonal influenza or pneumonia.

But conditions in nursing homes differ from isolated intensive care wards where the most serious cases are treated in hospitals.

A Seattle-area nursing home became the deadliest U.S. coronavirus outbreak to date, while in Spain, Madrid prosecutors are probing 17 coronavirus-related deaths at a nursing home after a patients’ group complained.

Roberto Dusi, a local official for the CISL union who represents care home workers in Cremona, said it was in any case impossible to treat elderly people with conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease in the same way as other patients.

“When you wash someone with Alzheimer’s, they seek contact, they might caress your head because they mistake you for their daughter or their son,” he said.

“Staff have to try to comfort these people who can’t understand why they’re shut in. They have to comfort them when they ask, ‘why isn’t my daughter coming to see me? Why isn’t anyone coming?'”

For families, the pain is made worse by the fact that they have been unable to see or help their relatives since visitors were excluded.

Two years ago, Chiara Zini’s family decided to place her 81-year-old aunt, who was suffering from a mild form of Alzheimer’s Disease in “Cremona Solidale”.

“Every day she had lunch with her husband, my uncle who came to see her,” she said. “Every day she saw me or her brother or my children.”

Once the shutdown came, visits were impossible but at least there were daily telephone calls.

“Then there wasn’t even that because people began to get sick with what was called influenza and the nurses were too busy looking after patients and couldn’t take calls from the families,” she said.

In early March, some two weeks after the shutdown, the home called Zini’s family to say her aunt had fallen ill with influenza. Last week, they were told she had died of respiratory problems.

With the health system pushed to its limits and funeral services overwhelmed by the hundreds of dead every day, there is no capacity to conduct autopsies or test bodies for coronavirus.

The bodies are wrapped in special protective plastic bags and buried or cremated with no more than a quick blessing from a priest. Any family commemoration will have to wait until a ban on public gatherings is lifted.

“They have lived their life and they’re leaving like that, without the ones they loved around them, without a real funeral,” said Zini.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)