Coronavirus: US disaster group opens field hospital in Italy’s north

A US disaster relief group opened a field hospital on Friday in Italy's north, as the country's coronavirus death toll showed no sign of tailing off.

Coronavirus: US disaster group opens field hospital in Italy's north
A view taken on March 20, 2020 from the hospital of Cremona, southeast of Milan, shows tents of a newly operative field hospital for coronavirus patients, financed by US evangelical Christian disaster

Samaritan's Purse, a Christian disaster response group based in North Carolina, began setting up the respiratory care unit in Cremona, about 90 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Milan, and expected to receive its first patients later Friday. 

The unit, located in the parking lot across from the city hospital, provides eight intensive care unit beds equipped with ventilators, 20 beds for general care, a laboratory and pharmacy, and is set to expand over the weekend.


“We came here because our fellow brothers and sisters, our Italian brothers and sisters, are hurting,” said Kelly Suter, health director of the new hospital.

The Lombardy region's top health official, Giulio Gallera, said the new hospital would provide sorely needed help for the overloaded Cremona hospital, which like others in Italy's north are struggling to keep up with the constant inflow of patients suffering from respiratory failure from the virus. 

 But the new unit “also has a symbolic value,” Gallera added. 

“Women and men who come to the other side of the world to help us and work with us to defeat the coronavirus – it's wonderful.”

On Friday, members of the team, soldiers and volunteers from Italy's civil protection unit readied the camp, unloading boxes within the white tents and setting up equipment. Some in white protective suits disinfected the area, while military trucks unloaded supplies.


A second airlift is planned for Saturday to expand the camp into 14 tents, with a total of 68 beds.

Samaritan's Purse said that it would have nearly 70 doctors, nurses, technicians, and other specialists working at the weekend. 

Italy's overwhelmed hospitals in the north, the centre of the country's outbreak, are scrambling for more doctors and nurses to care for coronavirus cases and face a shortage of ventilators. 


On Friday, Italy's civil protection unit announced another 627 deaths from the coronavirus, a new record. That figure included 381 deaths within the Lombardy region, where Cremona is located.

In the past year, Samaritan's Purse has sent disaster relief teams to major global disasters, including the ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, and Hurricane Dorian, in the Bahamas, the group said. 

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”