Global infections soar past 250,000 as video shows strain on Italy’s hospitals
Footage has emerged of patients wearing “plastic bubbles” on their heads at a packed hospital in Italy as the global number of virus infections soars past 250,000.
More than 255,000 cases of the new coronavirus have now been confirmed across 163 countries, and more than 10,400 people have died.
On Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the dramatic speed of the virus, saying: “It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases, and only 12 days to reach the next 100, 000”.
The worst outbreaks are in China, Iran, Italy, Spain and Germany, with the United States not far behind.
In Bergamo, the epicentre of the virus in Italy, cemeteries were overwhelmed, while Sky News video from inside the city’s main hospital showed patients lined up in a narrow ward, struggling for breath as doctors and nurses moved swiftly from one beeping machine to the next.
Some patients could be seen wearing bubble-like mobile ventilators on their head, helping to equalise the air pressure in their lungs.
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“The city of Bergamo invited us in to show everyone what a catastrophic emergency, that nobody has ever experienced before, looks like,” Sky News reporter Stuart Ramsay said.
“They want you to see it. They want the world’s population to question their governments’ responses.”
“When the virus arrived here, there was no containment and it spread through the valleys very quickly … some said it was the normal flu. We doctors knew it was not,” said Dr Luca Lorini, head of intensive care at the hospital, where nearly 500 beds are dedicated to people suffering severe symptoms of the virus, 80 of those in intensive care.
Spain has the second-largest outbreak behind Italy in Europe, with 1,002 deaths and 19,980 infections.
In Madrid, where there are more than 7,000 cases, health workers have begun converting hotels into makeshift wards for patients considered not in need of intensive care.
The army will also set up a field hospital of 5,500 beds and much-needed intensive care units inside a convention centre, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
“We are going to go through some very difficult days until we are able to stop the growth of the contagion curve,” he said.
On Friday, the streets were mostly empty in Madrid and Barcelona, the nation’s largest cities that are normally bustling and packed with pedestrians. Shops were closed and well-spaced lines formed at supermarkets and bakeries.
In the US, people have now been warned against all international travel. Fail to follow the advice and they risk spending an “indefinite” period away, the Trump administration says.
California has expanded restrictions on non-essential movement for all of its 40 million residents, while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all non-essential businesses to close and banned all gatherings.
More than 14,300 infections have been reported in the US and 210 people have died.
Last week, around 70,000 people filed for unemployment benefits as the pandemic took a toll on the world’s largest economy.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson shuttered all pubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, shops, gyms and theatres on Friday.
At the beginning of the week, the UK government advised people to stay away from most social venues, but many Londoners ignored the advice.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said he feared it was the result of mixed messaging.
“The advice from the government is just advice, and I think that provides a mixed message. We may move to a situation where we move from advice to bans,” he said.
At least 3,269 people have now been infected with the bug across the UK and 184 have died.
“We are telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not reopen tomorrow,” Mr Johnson said in his daily press conference.
“Unless we get this right, we’re going to see thousands of lives lost needlessly,” he said, adding: “We will get through it together and we will beat this virus”.
The government also announced an unprecedented economic intervention described by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as “necessary” to save lives.
In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began last December, there was another ray of hope with no new infections reported for a second day in a row and only 39 cases reported nationwide – all of them brought from the outside, the government said.