Italian hospitals ‘inundated’ by Covid patients as daily case number hits 126,000

As Italy's daily coronavirus infection rate soared past the symbolic milestone of 100,000 on Thursday, medical staff say ever-higher numbers of hospital admissions are putting them under strain.

Medical staff stand near a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at Rome's Institute of Clinical Cardiology.
Medical staff stand near a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at Rome's Institute of Clinical Cardiology on December 30th, 2021. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

“We are inundated,” medical director Antonino Marchese says wearily as his Rome Covid hospital fills up with patients, most of them unvaccinated despite the country bringing in restrictions for those who choose not to get the jab.

As daily coronavirus infections in Italy hit a new high of over 126,000 on Thursday, hospital admissions are also rising again due to the new Omicron variant and the persisting reluctance among some to get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: Italy announces new Covid quarantine and green pass rules as cases surge

At Rome’s Casalpalocco hospital, the situation has been “serious” for about a month, Marchese told AFP.

Of the facility’s 120 beds, 111 are now filled by patients suffering from the Covid-19 disease.

“We are inundated with requests for admission. It’s a constant pressure,” said Marchese, adding that he expects numbers to rise further.

Almost three-quarters of the hospital’s Covid patients are unvaccinated, and some resist intubation when taken to the intensive care unit.

“Then they generally accept because they realise how serious it is and then they can no longer breathe on their own,” he said.

The majority of patients in intensive care are elderly, but younger people also fill up beds “because they have to be constantly and precisely monitored to see if they need to be ventilated”, Marchese said.

Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Throughout Italy, other hospitals report a similar phenomenon.

Whereas 10 percent of all Italy’s intensive care beds were occupied by Covid patients on December 17, that number has crept up to 13 percent in the past two days, according to Italy’s National Agency for Regional Health Services.

Some regions are under more pressure, such as Veneto, at 18 percent, and Lazio – of which Rome is the capital – at 16 percent.

Although 85.8 percent of the country’s population over the age of 12 has been fully inoculated, there remain roughly six million unvaccinated over-12s, according to official data.

“In my opinion, in Italy we’ve managed to steer the population towards a certain favourable vaccination trend,” said Marchese.

“Of course, the no-vax people exist everywhere, even here.”

To try to convince them further, Italy’s government on Wednesday announced even more stringent restrictions on the unvaccinated, effectively barring them from hotels, gyms, restaurants and even public transport.

From January 10th, Italy’s ‘reinforced’ green pass – which shows proof of vaccination status or recovery from Covid-19 – will be required to access many places previously accessible to the unvaccinated via a negative Covid test.

The government also scrapped a seven-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case, amid concerns that the country would grind to a halt with millions of people forced to stay home.

Q&A: What are Italy’s new Covid quarantine rules?

The new curbs, aimed at increasing vaccination rates further amid the new wave of contagion, were announced as Italy soared past the symbolic threshold of 100,000 new daily cases to a total of 126,888 on Thursday.

The test positivity rate rose from 9.5 percent on Wednesday to 11 percent.

Intensive care cases are up by 41 to 1,226, and hospital admissions up 288, now totalling 10,866.

Member comments

  1. It’s funny when you put the facts in context it doesn’t chime with the alarmist narrative.

    “Whereas 10 percent of all Italy’s intensive care beds were occupied by Covid patients on December 17, that number has crept up to 13 percent in the past two days”

    13%? Can you try to compare this to the historical average % taken up by respiratory diseases pre-Covid? Can you please also report on the average age of the people in intensive care? Also – how many people are in hospital for other conditions but tested positive also for Covid?

    The lack of context in all Covid reporting here is worrying, look at the government websites, in 2018 approx 1700 people died every day in Italy. We have the vaccine now, we’ve taken the booster doses, people shouldn’t be terrified into an authoritarian state.

    1. This is an excellent response to fearmongering like this. Every single year in winter, newspapers in Italy and the UK are full of articles bemoaning the lack of space in ICUs. What about publishing an article like one I saw in Le Figaro about what life is like in South Africa right now. My friends all celebrated New Year’s eve on the beach, teens hung out together, people are careful but relaxed. And most are very pro early treatment. We need to recalibrate the response in Europe.

  2. Hmm, while there is a general shortage of trend analysis, the fact that 20% of hospital beds (in Piemonte at least) are occupied by COVID patients (no idea or curiosity as to what proportion are vaccinated) does have implications for the capacity of other departments. On the question of excess deaths (no analysis of causes, I agree), look at euromomo for data,

  3. A friend pointed out to me that January in South Africa is their summertime, and the Covid loads go down almost everywhere in summer as people gather outside rather than inside. From the start we were told that few cases seemed to be transmitted in the open air. This may explain part of it.

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Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”