What Canada can learn from Italy’s situation with COVID-19

[Reporter: Terence McKenna] Today, Codogno, Italy population: 16,000 looks like a ghost town. The residents ordered to stay in their homes. Apparently this is where the Italian coronavirus outbreak began on February 18th when a 38 year old athletic male with breathing problems was repeatedly turned away from his doctor’s office and the local hospital without being tested. He unknowingly spread COVID-19 to dozens of people over several days. Dr. Lorenzo Cassani is a hospital administrator in the area. We know that patient one went in and out at least three or four times from the emergency room so he spread the virus to other patients and also to the health care workers. In Italy, the virus spread quickly from the smaller towns in the north to the big city of Milan. Then it exploded. Dr. Giacomo Grasselli leads a COVID-19 task force there. We were watching images, the TV from China. We saw them building up to hospitals in a week and I said well this is crazy. Now I completely understand why they did that. It’s like a mob of patients that explodes and then — they just come out every day — some 60,50, 70 new patients. And really it’s a challenge of how to find a
place for each one of them. So it’s incredible what’s happening. I mean it’s it’s a very bad experience, very bad experience. [Reporter] Now all the hospitals in northern Italy are stretched to the breaking point. The health care workers totally exhausted. Themselves terrified of contracting the virus and passing it on to their own families. Ventilators are the only thing that will keep the sickest patients alive and there may not be enough to go around Doctors have to decide who lives and who
dies. The elderly and those with complicating medical conditions might be sacrificed. So if you have to choose between a 75-year-old and a 20-year-old person. Obviously the person with the higher
expectation of life. There will be a moment that an anesthesiologist will have to take off the respirator from this 75-year-old guy and give it to the 20-year-old. And this will be a horrible choice. Now effectively that means that some people are being left to die because it’s not possible to treat everybody. [Reporter] Prof. Yascha Mounk at Johns Hopkins University has studied the ethical dilemmas of what used to be considered battlefield medicine. I can only imagine how psychologically devastating it must be for the doctors and nurses involve. They are already at great danger to themselves working around the clock in an extreme situation seeing many people die and now you add on top of that the psychological stress of having to look at a patient and say I’m not gonna be able to do anything for you. It’s hard to fathom. Yes, it becomes overwhelming, for sure. But I have to say that doctors and nurses are doing a heroic job. They are saving really thousands of lives and working night and day to grant everyone the best possible care. [Reoprter] There is a debate about why Italy was the first major Western country to be hit. Especially since it was among the first to ban flights from China. Some people point to the average age of the population. The oldest in Europe. Some point to the bad air pollution in northern industrial areas that has caused widespread lung disease. In the northern region, we have the most polluted air in Europe. This is linked with viral infection. Pneumonia infections. Also we do not have emergency plans for pandemics. We have for the natural disasters. And also we were the first so we were totally unprepared. I think the question of why Italy is the most important question and it has a simple answer. No reason at all. The only thing that makes Italy different is that the first couple of cases arrived in Italy about ten days before they arrived in Germany or the United States or Canada. So if other countries aren’t going to react in an extreme way right now they’re going to become Italy. [Reporter] There have already been over 1,800 COVID-19 deaths in Italy. It has the highest mortality rate of any country even that of China. Many suggested is because there is still a vast number of actual infections that have not been diagnosed. Canadians are cautioned not to be reassured by the much lower number of deaths so far in Canada. My message to Canadians is that many countries around the world have thought something about them makes them less susceptible to this virus than others. And that has proven wrong in every case. Canadians are not miraculously exempt from dying from this disease and they’re not miraculously exempt from seeing it spread in an exponential fashion. The problem arises when these starts in a small communities with a lot of people. When every people gets infected it’s called super spread. It becomes more and more powerful and then it explodes. So if you are able to identify the first cases and to contain them then you might be safe or at least safer. But I would not wait until you have 10, 20 30, 50 deaths. That’s not the way to do it. [Reporter] The good news is that we know what can work. Canadians can look to South Korea. They can look to Singapore. They can look to China to understand what they have to do in order to avoid mass fatalities. And that is canceling everything now. Social distancing. Staying at home. Bosses telling them to please, work from home if it’s at all possible. Schools closing. That is what is needed now in order to save lives. [Reporter] This week a team of Chinese infectious disease experts arrived in Rome to help fight the Italian outbreak. They brought almost 2 million surgical masks and hundreds of ventilators and defibrillators for intensive care units. Having been the origin of the worldwide pandemic China is now in a position to help confront it. As each day brings hundreds of new deaths in Italy. All Western countries study the Italian example of what could be in store for all of us in the weeks ahead Terence Mckenna
CBC News Toronto

Stephen Childs

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