Alexa

A pandemic atlas: Italy becomes Europe's viral epicenter

Eighty-two-year-old patient Mario reads a note on his medical condition during a routine examination by Dr. Giovanni Passeri, upper left, and his assi...
Tourists eat a meal in a nearly-empty restaurant terrace in Venice, Italy, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. In late February, Italy became the epicenter of COVI...
A volunteer nurse tends to homeless people on the streets of Milan, Italy, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A gondolier looks at his smartphone as he waits for clients in Venice, Italy, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Franci...
The Eco di Bergamo newspaper features several pages of obituaries in its March 17, 2020 edition, in Mediglia, Italy, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Bergam...
Nurse Cristina Settembrese adjusts two masks to her face during her work shift in the COVID-19 ward at the San Paolo hospital in Milan, Italy on Frida...
Soldiers patrol Milan, Italy, on Friday, March 20, 2020, with the Duomo gothic cathedral in the background. Mayors of many towns in Italy are asking f...
Patient Nazzareno Santilli, 60, under oxygen CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) headgear ventilation, smiles with Dr. Elisabetta Teti in the sub-...
A man stands on the unusually empty Navigli area, a popular evening spot of restaurants and pubs along canals in Milan, Italy, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020...
Ana Travezano, 39, a nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo, Italy poses for a portrait at the end of her shift Friday, March 27, 2020. ...
Ana Travezano, 39, a nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo, Italy poses for a portrait Nov. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Alyn Valeriou trains with his 3-year old daughter, Maria Cristina, outside his caravan at the Romina Orfei Circus, parked in San Nicola la Strada, nea...
Dr. Giovanni Passeri plays cards with his 10-year-old son Francesco, left, each of them wearing surgical masks, as he waits for lunch at home in Parma...
Sabatino Di Girolamo, mayor of Roseto degli Abruzzi, left, lays his hands on the the casket of his mother, Annunziata Ginoble, before her inhumation a...
Nurse Ginevra Fattori adjusts her protective equipment before entering the sub-intensive care unit of the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome, Thursday,...
Spectators wearing masks wait for a show at La Scala theater in Milan, Italy, on Monday, July 6, 2020. The opera house reopened Monday after a four-mo...
People in their cars and on lounging chairs watch the movie "Tolo Tolo" at the Paolo Ferrari drive-in cinema in Ostia, on Rome's seaside on Thursday, ...
Pope Francis puts on his face mask as he attends an inter-religious ceremony for peace in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, in Rome Tuesday, Oc...
Sabatino Di Girolamo, center, mayor of Roseto degli Abruzzi, with his son, Francesco, right, and his sister, Marisa Di Felice, mourns his mother Annun...
Light reflects off the cobblestones of an empty street next to La Scala theater, left, early Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. On its second night of curfew, Mil...

Eighty-two-year-old patient Mario reads a note on his medical condition during a routine examination by Dr. Giovanni Passeri, upper left, and his assi...

Tourists eat a meal in a nearly-empty restaurant terrace in Venice, Italy, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. In late February, Italy became the epicenter of COVI...

A volunteer nurse tends to homeless people on the streets of Milan, Italy, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

A gondolier looks at his smartphone as he waits for clients in Venice, Italy, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Franci...

The Eco di Bergamo newspaper features several pages of obituaries in its March 17, 2020 edition, in Mediglia, Italy, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Bergam...

Nurse Cristina Settembrese adjusts two masks to her face during her work shift in the COVID-19 ward at the San Paolo hospital in Milan, Italy on Frida...

Soldiers patrol Milan, Italy, on Friday, March 20, 2020, with the Duomo gothic cathedral in the background. Mayors of many towns in Italy are asking f...

Patient Nazzareno Santilli, 60, under oxygen CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) headgear ventilation, smiles with Dr. Elisabetta Teti in the sub-...

A man stands on the unusually empty Navigli area, a popular evening spot of restaurants and pubs along canals in Milan, Italy, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020...

Ana Travezano, 39, a nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo, Italy poses for a portrait at the end of her shift Friday, March 27, 2020. ...

Ana Travezano, 39, a nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo, Italy poses for a portrait Nov. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Alyn Valeriou trains with his 3-year old daughter, Maria Cristina, outside his caravan at the Romina Orfei Circus, parked in San Nicola la Strada, nea...

Dr. Giovanni Passeri plays cards with his 10-year-old son Francesco, left, each of them wearing surgical masks, as he waits for lunch at home in Parma...

Sabatino Di Girolamo, mayor of Roseto degli Abruzzi, left, lays his hands on the the casket of his mother, Annunziata Ginoble, before her inhumation a...

Nurse Ginevra Fattori adjusts her protective equipment before entering the sub-intensive care unit of the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome, Thursday,...

Spectators wearing masks wait for a show at La Scala theater in Milan, Italy, on Monday, July 6, 2020. The opera house reopened Monday after a four-mo...

People in their cars and on lounging chairs watch the movie "Tolo Tolo" at the Paolo Ferrari drive-in cinema in Ostia, on Rome's seaside on Thursday, ...

Pope Francis puts on his face mask as he attends an inter-religious ceremony for peace in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, in Rome Tuesday, Oc...

Sabatino Di Girolamo, center, mayor of Roseto degli Abruzzi, with his son, Francesco, right, and his sister, Marisa Di Felice, mourns his mother Annun...

Light reflects off the cobblestones of an empty street next to La Scala theater, left, early Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. On its second night of curfew, Mil...

ROME (AP) — On the morning of Feb. 20, Dr. Annalisa Malara went to work at the public hospital in tiny Codogno, Italy, and broke protocol by ordering up a coronavirus test for a patient.

In so doing, she confirmed that Europe’s coronavirus outbreak was under way.

Malara’s intuition — to test a 38-year-old Italian marathoner who hadn’t traveled to China or been in contact with a known positive case — sounded the alarm to Italy and the rest of the world: The virus had not only arrived in the West but was circulating locally.

Italy would go on to become the epicenter of COVID-19 in Europe and a cautionary tale of what happens when a health care system in even one of the wealthiest parts of the world collapses under the weight of the pandemic sick and dead.

And when a second wave hit in September, even the lessons learned from the first weren’t enough to spare Italy’s disproportionately old population. Despite plans and protocols, monitoring systems and machinery that were put in place to hedge against the expected flu season onslaught, another 30,000 people died, hospitals once again were brought to the breaking point and Italy reclaimed the dishonor of leading Europe in the gruesome death count.

“It changes you inside,” said Simona Romani, who lost her mother-in-law on Oct. 28 during the peak of Italy’s second wave, after just two days in the hospital. “You are powerless before an invisible enemy.”

By mid-December, Italy had reported about 3,070 cases per 100,000 population.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After suffering so much in spring, Italy won international praise for having tamed the virus thanks to the West’s first nationwide lockdown: All non-essential production and commercial activity ground to a halt for 10 weeks from March to May. No gelato, no pizza, no cappuccino at the bar downstairs.

Cooped up at home, Italians were deluged with a steady barrage of terrifyingly effective media programming: Local governors on Facebook Live videos nudged doctors and nurses to come out of retirement to help colleagues who were overwhelmed with patients and were themselves falling sick. And night-time talk shows featured exhausted hospital staff in sweaty scrubs begging Italians to stay home.

Residents were allowed outside only for essential work, medical appointments or necessities like grocery shopping, and only then with a certificate. Police set up checkpoints and issued fines.

But it worked. By Aug. 1, Italy added a daily 295 new infections nationwide and had only 43 people in intensive care, a nearly 100-fold decrease in ICU-saturation from the springtime high. The daily 6 p.m. lockdown ritual of blaring the national anthem and cheers for medical workers gave way to the 6 p.m. aperitivo at the bar with friends and a giddy sense of having beaten it.

But by late August, infections began creeping back up again as Italians returned from Sardinia and the Croatian coast where they had danced the nights away, maskless, at beachfront discos that became ground zero for the second wave of infection.

Industrial, densely populated Lombardy, which bore the brunt of the toll in spring, got slammed again in the fall. In March, the province of Bergamo registered a 571% increase in excess deaths, and cemeteries and crematoria were so full that army convoys trucked caskets out of town.

By October, Italy’s business capital, Milan, was buckling under and led the region and country in new infections and deaths. The government divided up the peninsula into yellow, orange and red zones of risk and Lombardy was labeled red as it once again failed to protect its elderly.

The 200-bed field hospital that the Lombardy region built to great fanfare in spring with 20 million euros in donations — half from ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi — was finally put to use.

And that’s where Malara, the anesthesiologist from tiny Codogno who diagnosed Italy’s first homegrown COVID-19 patient, now finds herself working.

After risking her job to go outside medical protocol to diagnose Patient No. 1, Malara told local media she is now volunteering at the Milan field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients, who now exceed 1 million.

Her aim? “To give back the precious and vital help that was given to us in March and April.”


Updated : 2021-02-28 21:48 GMT+08:00