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Italian doctor sees first signs of improvement but says UK must stay resolute to fight ‘invisible enemy’ coronavirus

A man wearing a face mask walks across a street in Bologna.
A man wearing a face mask walks across a street in Bologna.

An Italian doctor on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic said medics are fighting an “invisible enemy” – admitting she at first felt “scared” by the challenge ahead of her.

Dr Rosa Maria Minniti, who works in the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna,  said she initially felt “scared” seeing death and suffering every day, but she has managed to overcome her fears to perform her duty as a doctor caring for the “huge number” of patients requiring care.

The head and neck surgery specialist revealed medics are working without breaks during their ward shifts to cope with the influx of patients, some of whom are struggling to breathe and need ventilators to keep them alive.

She said: “Since the outbreak of Covid-19 the ordinary activities of the surgery has changed, most of our units have been converted into Covid-19 wards in order to host the huge number of patients and most doctors like me have been asked to serve as volunteers, assisting patients and running the ward.

“Honestly, the beginning was very hard, I felt very scared and agitated facing this challenge, every day you face death and suffering and I felt I was unfit for this situation.

“Fortunately, I overcame my fears without being flooded by the events and now I’m doing my duty, doing my best every day.”

The 29-year-old, who has been volunteering on the Covid-19 wards, said for those patients who require hospitalisation the situation is “serious”.

She said: “There are so many at the same time, consequently there is no rest during the ward shifts, everyday we are in front of patients very sick, some of them cannot breathe therefore they are intubated and need the lung ventilator to survive.

“All the Covid-19 patients are far from their families, no visits are allowed, which makes the situation even more sad.”

Rosa Maria Minniti.

The virus is “highly infectious” and can affect anyone from children to elderly people, with children acting as an excellent “reservoir for infection”, as thanks to their immune system they can silently transmit the disease to other people.

She added: “Most of the patients in the hospital are older people with other comorbidities (one or more illness or disease), such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

“In some limited cases, young people in their twenties and thirties have respiratory insufficiency and need to be intubated.

“An early diagnosis of Covid-19 is essential in order to start drug treatment immediately and preventing the virus to reach the more serious stage that, as already mentioned, consists of severe respiratory insufficiency, which requires hospitalisation in intensive care with intubation and mechanical ventilation.”

Italy has faced a war against the virus, with a total of 132,547 cases reported as of Tuesday, and more than 16,000 deaths.

The country is only now beginning to see the “first signs” of improvement, after four weeks under lockdown, with daily deaths apparently peaking at 919 on March 27.

Dr Minniti said: “Emilia Romagna (the northern Italian region in which Bologna is situated) had a quick response to this emergency.

“In my hospital a Covid-19 department and more than five intensive therapies were opened within two weeks from the outbreak.

“Moreover, in Bologna, the other three hospitals were converted to deliver Covid-19 treatments and all the doctors available are involved.

“As is the case in Emilia-Romagna, all other Italian regions are applying extraordinary measures to increase hospital beds and ensure adequate care to the patients.”

Security check points in Como, Italy.

The doctor believes that other European countries, and in particular the UK, France and Spain, should have taken more restrictive measures in the first weeks, considering what was happening in Italy.

She said: “This is a tragic situation. We are fighting an invisible enemy and we need sharper weapons to win.

“We still do not have a vaccine or a proven guideline for treating this virus.

“All the procedures are experimental and need further testing. The only way to stop this pandemic is to nip the infection in the bud, preventing the spread of the infection.

“The governments should take all the measures needed to contain the contagion and to ensure medical care to people.

This is a tragic situation, we are fighting an invisible enemy and we need sharper weapons to win.

“At the beginning all the world underestimated the situation, but now fortunately people realised that Covid-19 is very dangerous and that prevention is the only strategy that can give us the time necessary to find a cure.

“In Italy we have been in quarantine for four weeks and only now we see the first signs of improvement.

“It is probably too early for claiming victory but if we manage continuing with social distancing, we will get through this situation.”

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