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 face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”