‘They call it the apocalypse’ – Italy want us to see this, they want to send a simple message: “Get ready”


The sheer numbers of people succumbing to the coronavirus is overwhelming every hospital in Italy.

Staff frantically wave us out of the way, pushing gurneys carrying men and women on mobile respirators. 

They rush past wards already rammed with beds all filled with people in terrible distress; gasping for air, clutching at their chests and at tubes pumping oxygen into their oxygen-starved lungs – and it’s just plain scary.

Masked, gloved and in a hazmat suit, my team and I are led through corridors full of gasping people who look terribly ill.

I ask what ward I am in.

“This isn’t really a ward, it’s a waiting room, we just have to use every bit of space.”

The medical teams are fighting a war here and they are losing.

The staff are working flat out trying to keep their patients from deteriorating further. They are trying to stop them from dying.

In groups they crowd around the latest patients. Attaching monitors, drips and most importantly respirators. Without them the patients will simply go downhill fast.

Really fast. Deadly fast.

It looks like an intensive care unit (ICU) but it is actually just an emergency arrivals ward. The ICU is full. The people being treated are new arrivals, but they look far worse than that.

Anywhere else in the world they would be intensive care cases but here, to qualify, you are actually on the point of death, not just gravely ill.

In this pandemic gravely ill is considered a reasonable position. It really is that bad.

The arrival of people here is an absolute constant. This killer pandemic is virtually out of control.

We have all heard what has been going on here, but no journalist has been allowed in here to see it, until now.

The city of Bergamo invited us in to show everyone what a catastrophic emergency, that nobody has ever experienced before, looks like.

They want you to see it. They want the world’s population to question their own governments’ responses.

Through plastic bubbles that fit over the heads of the most ill, staff struggle to communicate with patients.

The weak can barely speak and above the noise of the ward and the constant bleep of heart monitors and breathing pumps, it’s almost impossible to make out what they are saying.

The bubbles are attempting to equalise the air pressure in the lungs.

Nobody expected this, nobody even imagined they would be treating so many so quickly.

And for the record, it is NOT like flu, it is more often than not chronic pneumonia and it is killing hundreds here each day.

Dr Roberto Cosentini, says they have never seen anything like it, and he and his staff are warning other countries, especially the UK, that they will see it soon.

“It’s a very severe pneumonia, and so it’s a massive strain for every health system, because we see every day 50-60 patients who come to our emergency department with pneumonia, and most of them are so severe they need very high volumes of oxygen.

“And so we had to reorganise our emergency room and our hospital [to] three levels of intensive care.”

This hospital is one of the most advanced in Europe, but even this gleaming mega hospital is on its knees. The hospital is attempting to deal with a crisis that was never imagined.

He, like every other doctor and nurse I spoke to, urged the UK to follow the example of China and Italy, and lock down everything straight away.

It is, they say, the only way to slow the virus down: not beat it, slow it.

“I have never felt so stressed in my life, I’m an intensivist, and I am quite used to intense moments, and the choices, and people are critical and die without any treatment, and you [usually] make the difference,” he told me.

“But when you are at this point you realise that you are not enough.

“We are 100 anaesthetists, we are doing our best, but maybe it’s not enough.”

It’s crippling – here they call it the apocalypse.

There can be no excuse anymore that nobody knew. Italy did not. Now everyone else does.

Italy wants us to see this, as I have said, and they want to send a simple message: “Get ready”.


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