Medical workers in protective suits pushing a stretcher in front of the Columbus clinic, where patients suffering from coronavirus COVID-19 were removed from a hospital in Rome, March 16, 2020. (Reuters)
MILAN – Italian soldiers transported bodies overnight from a northern town whose cemetery has been overwhelmed by the scale of the coronavirus outbreak, as the government in Rome prepared to prolong emergency lockdown measures across Italy.
Video shot by local people in Bergamo, northeast of Milan, and shown on the website of the local newspaper Eco di Bergamo, showed a long column of military trucks driving through the streets overnight and removing coffins from the local cemetery.
An army spokesman confirmed on Thursday that 15 trucks and 50 soldiers had been deployed to move bodies to neighboring provinces. Earlier local authorities in Bergamo had appealed for help with cremations after they had overwhelmed its crematorium.
Italy recorded the largest ever one-day increase in coronavirus deaths on Wednesday as the total rose by 475, including more than 300 deaths in the region of Lombardy, to almost 3 000. In Bergamo, the worst-hit province of Lombardy, the local crematorium has been working 24 hours a day but has been unable to handle the growing numbers of dead.
The images of army trucks evacuating bodies underlined the extent to which health services in the worst-affected northern regions of Italy have been stretched to breaking point by the crisis, which has also seen large numbers of medical personnel falling ill with the virus.
Lombardy regional governor Attilio Fontana said that if significant numbers of doctors and nurses succumbed to the disease, the country risked “disaster”.
The crisis is also badly damaging Italy’s economy, which had already been on the brink of recession before suffering its first case of the virus last month in a small town outside the financial capital Milan. Business then quickly ground to a halt.
The government has unveiled a 25 billion euro (US$26.84 billion) package of measures to support companies and workers and sources said it was considering extending guarantees on bank loans to help firms hit by a collapse in orders.
Fears that the crisis could cause a repeat of the debt crisis that hit southern European countries including Italy and threatened the euro itself in 2011 caused borrowing costs to spike sharply in recent days. However financial markets appeared calmer after the European Central Bank announced a 750 billion euro emergency support package overnight.