“We are overwhelmed with requests for hospitalizations (…) the pressure is constant”, sighs Antonino Marchese, who runs a Covid hospital in the suburbs of Rome, where the intensive care unit has more than 70% of unvaccinated people, while the government strongly encourages vaccination.
“The situation is heavy,” Dr. Marchese, health director of the Casalpalocco hospital, which currently accommodates 111 patients with a capacity of 120 beds, including 35 in intensive care, told AFP. Originally specializing in cardiology, this establishment is now entirely dedicated to Covid patients.
“This situation has been going on for roughly a month already. We are systematically full,” he laments, adjusting his glasses on his face framed by salt and pepper curly hair. Nationally, the occupancy rate of Covid patients in intensive care climbed from 10 to 13% between December 17 and 29.
Like its European neighbors, Italy is currently facing a significant rebound in contamination. Almost 100,000 new cases (98,020) were recorded on Wednesday, and more than 600,000 people are currently positive.
Faced with this increase linked to the Omicron variant, the government of Mario Draghi decided on Wednesday evening to require the vaccination pass in transport, hotels, restaurant terraces, fairs and conferences as well as swimming pools and gyms.
These measures will come into force at the end of the school holidays on January 10, according to the decree-law “introducing urgent measures to contain the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic” adopted during the Council of Ministers.
Until now, to take the train and the plane, it was enough to be in possession of a “basic” health pass, which could be obtained through vaccination but also with a negative test.
The vaccination pass, called in Italy “reinforced health pass”, is obtained only with a complete vaccination cycle or after recovery from the Covid. The vaccination pass is currently only required for certain professional categories such as health personnel and law enforcement.
Some 85.8% of the population over the age of 12 is vaccinated, but with these measures the government hopes to convince some of the 6 million over 12 years who are reluctant to the vaccine, who represent the vast majority of Covid patients ending up in resuscitation and risk overheating the national health system.
In Casalpalocco, “the percentage exceeds 70%, at 72-73% of unvaccinated patients,” confirms Dr. Marchese by consulting the latest figures on his computer. In intensive care, patients who are intubated or have had a tracheostomy, some of whom are not aware, are monitored by a nurse’s broom in full suits.
On another floor, two patients released from intensive care are preparing to finally return home.
“I have been here since December 6 (…) I was very ill when I arrived”, says Roberto Cassina, 53 years old. “I was not vaccinated,” he admits. And when we ask him if he will be vaccinated, he remains evasive: “I don’t know, I have to think about it (…) I still have doubts”.
On the other hand, in the room opposite, Gianpaolo Coin, also on the way out, replied unambiguously in the affirmative, confessing that he was “very afraid”. “With my wife, we thought we were going to die”, admits this 75-year-old man on the verge of tears, “it’s indescribable”.
The government also decided on Wednesday to remove the ten-day quarantine for contact cases vaccinated or cured of Covid. The unvaccinated will have to continue to respect a ten-day quarantine.
This relaxation of the quarantine rules aims to prevent the paralysis of certain sectors such as transport, where the large number of employees in quarantine has led, for example, to the cancellation of many trains.
Finally, the sports structures will be subjected to gauges: 35% for the covered enclosures and 50% for those in the open air.
“I find these government directives absolutely fundamental, and even in my modest opinion we should arrive at a unified decision at least at European level on the vaccination obligation”, “because that is only how we can win this battle, ”says Dr. Marchese.