Home / News / World /  Italy caught off guard by new surge in less severe virus cases

Italy, hit hard by the pandemic last spring, built up intensive care capacity in anticipation of a second wave, but a recent surge in hospitalizations for patients below ICU level has caught health officials off guard.

Since the end of October, cases requiring hospitalization in sub-intensive care units or infectious disease wards have in most regions surpassed the critical occupancy rate of 40% set by the country’s Health Ministry.

Patients categorized as suffering from less severe Covid-19 cases now occupy half of Italian hospital beds, with some areas like Piedmont, the region around Turin, and Bolzano in South Tyrol above 90%. Hospital admissions doubled in 10 days to an average of 1,230 per day at the beginning of last week, before slowing down at the end of the week.

Italy had 32,047 non-critical Covid patients in its hospitals as of Sunday, more than France and double the number in Spain, whose hospital occupancy rate is below 20%.

That’s creating bottlenecks in emergency rooms, especially in Milan and Naples, where patients at some big hospitals are essentially parked for days at a time. Postings on social media have included photos of ambulances lined up outside hospitals and people being treated in their cars.

One of the issues for Italy is that the country has been merging hospitals over the last 10 years to cut costs. Another problem is the failure to effectively offer and manage at-home care for virus patients, Massimo Galli, director of infectious diseases at Milan’s Sacco hospital, said on SkyTg24 television.

Italy is scrambling to make more beds available to virus cases, reorganizing or closing down wards normally used for other categories of treatment. The country currently has 3,422 patients in ICUs, still below the early April peak of more than 4,000. Italy has about 10,000 ICU spaces.

While the situation is less dire elsewhere in Europe, some German hospitals may also approach their limits in coming weeks, officials warned on Thursday. Several regions in Austria, which is set to toughen its lockdown measures, have hospital occupancy rates close to 80%.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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