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Monday, June 01, 2020

Europe faces ICU crunch rushes to build field hospitals

Even as the virus has slowed its growth in overwhelmed Italy and in China where it first emerged, hospitals in Spain and France are reaching their breaking points and the US and Britain are bracing for incoming waves of desperately ill people.

By: AP | Rome | Published: April 1, 2020 7:23:28 pm
Thai soccer team planned to be inside the cave for only an hour Intensive care units are particularly crucial in a pandemic in which tens of thousands of patients descend into acute respiratory distress.(AP/File)

Facing intense surges in the need for hospital ICU beds European nations are on a building and hiring spree throwing together makeshift hospitals and shipping coronavirus patients out of overwhelmed cities via highspeed trains and military jets. The key question is whether they will be able to find enough healthy medical staff to make it all work.

Even as the virus has slowed its growth in overwhelmed Italy and in China where it first emerged, hospitals in Spain and France are reaching their breaking points and the US and Britain are bracing for incoming waves of desperately ill people.

Read| Explained: How European countries have implemented coronavirus lockdown

“It feels like we are in a third world country.We dont have enough masks enough protective equipment and by the end of the week we might be in need of more medication too” said Paris emergency worker Christophe Prudhomme.

In a remarkable turnaround rich economies where virus cases have exploded are welcoming help from less wealthy ones Russia sent medical equipment and masks to the US on Wednesday Cuba sent doctors to France Turkey sent masks hazmat suits goggles and disinfectants to Italy and Spain.

London is just days from unveiling a 4000 bed temporary hospital built in a massive convention center to take noncritical patients so British hospitals can keep ahead of an expected surge in demand. Still there are concerns about finding thousands of medical workers to run it.

Spain which hit a new record Wednesday of 864 deaths in one day has boosted its hospital beds by 20 Hotspots in Madrid and northeast Catalonia have almost tripled their ICU capacity. Dozens of hotels across Spain have been turned into recovery rooms and authorities are building field hospitals in sports centers libraries and exhibition halls.

Intensive care units are particularly crucial in a pandemic in which tens of thousands of patients descend into acute respiratory distress. Those ICU units are much harder to cobble together quickly than standard hospital beds.

Milan opened an intensive care field hospital Tuesday at the city fairgrounds complete with a pharmacy and radiology wards. It expects to eventually employ 900 staff. The move came after the health situation turned extreme in Italy’s Lombardy region where bodies overflowed in morgues caskets piled up in churches and doctors were forced to decide which desperately ill patient would get a breathing machine.

“We arent happy to have done this “fairgrounds foundation head Enrico Pazzali said. “Its something I never would have wanted to do”. The pressure is easing on hardhit Italian cities like Bergamo and Brescia as the rate of new infections in Italy slows. Yet many Italians are still dying at home or in nursing homes because hospitals are saturated and they could not get access to ICU breathing machines.

With over 12400 dead so far Italy has the most coronavirus deaths of any nation Italy,Britain and France are among countries that have called in medical students retired doctors and even laid off flight attendants with first aid training to help although all need retraining.

The medical staffing shortage has been exacerbated by the high numbers of infected personnel In Italy alone nearly 10000 medical workers have been infected and more than 60 doctors have died.

While Spains confirmed infections shot past 102000 Wednesday and its deaths are now beyond 9000 the increase in infections was less than the previous day offering some hope that the contagion rate is stabilizing.

Still COVID19 patients who need intensive care can occupy a bed for three to four weeks meaning Spain and other nations will still see increasing pressures on their hospitals for days or weeks to come.

The Paris region more than doubled its ICU capacity over the past week but the beds are already full. So Paris was sending critically ill patients to lesssaturated regions on special highspeed trains Wednesday Others have been moved by military planes helicopters or warships.

One reason Germany is in better shape than other European countries is its high proportion of ICU beds at 339 per 100000 people compared to 86 in Italy Germany has 775 virus deaths 16 times fewer deaths than Italy.

Britain still has some free ICU beds available but the outbreak is likely weeks away from its peak there and the UK has one of the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in Europe The new hospital inside Londons Excel center plans to admit its first patients at the end of this week Chief operating officer Natalie Forrest warned that it will need thousands of doctors nurses and volunteers.

For most people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough But for others especially older adults and people with existing health problems it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and lead to death.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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