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As virus surges anew, Milan hospitals under pressure again

MILAN (AP) — Coronavirus infections are surging anew in the northern Italian region where the pandemic first took hold in Europe, putting pressure again on hospitals and health care workers.

At Milan’s San Paolo hospital, a ward dedicated to coronavirus patients and outfitted with breathing machines reopened this weekend, a sign that the city and the surrounding area is entering a new emergency phase of the pandemic.

For the medical personnel who fought the virus in Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy in the spring, the long-predicted resurgence came too soon.


“On a psychological level, I have to say I still have not recovered,’’ said nurse Cristina Settembrese, referring to last March and April when Lombardy accounted for nearly half of the dead and one-third of the nation’s coronavirus cases.

“In the last five days, I am seeing many people who are hospitalized who need breathing support,” Settembrese said. “I am reliving the nightmare, with the difference that the virus is less lethal.”

Months after Italy eased one of the globe’s toughest lockdowns, the country is now recording well over 5,000 new infections a day — eerily close to the highs of the spring — as the weather cools and a remarkably relaxed summer of travel and socializing fades into memory. Lombardy is again leading the nation in case numbers, an echo of the trauma of March and April when ambulance sirens pierced the silence of stilled cities.

So far, Italy’s death toll remains significantly below the spring heights, hovering recently around 50 per day nationwide, a handful in Lombardy. That compares with over 900 dead nationwide one day in March.

In response to the new surge, Premier Giuseppe Conte’s government twice tightened nationwide restrictions inside a week. Starting Thursday, Italians cannot play casual pickup sports, bars and restaurants face a midnight curfew, and private celebrations in public venues are banned. Masks are mandatory outdoors as of last week.

But there is also growing concern among doctors that Italy squandered the gains it made during its 10-week lockdown and didn’t move quick enough to reimpose restrictions. Concerns persist that the rising stress on hospitals will force scheduled surgeries and screenings to be postponed — creating a parallel health emergency, as happened in the spring.

Italy is not the only European country seeing a resurgence — and, in fact, is faring better than its neighbors this time around. Italy’s cases per 100,000 residents have doubled in the last two weeks to nearly 87 — a rate well below countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Britain that are seeing between around 300 to around 500 per 100,000. Those countries have also started to impose new restrictions.

This time, Milan is bearing the brunt. With Lombardy recording more than 1,000 cases a day, the regional capital and its surroundings account for as many as half of that total. Bergamo — which was hardest hit last time and has been seared into collective memory by images of army trucks transporting the dead to