ITALIAN doctors have warned of a "catastrophic" situation unfolding as the country's death toll leaps 16 percent to 2,503 and pressure on hospitals mounts.
Italy has been among the worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with more than 31,000 cases confirmed and the entire country now on lockdown.
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Deaths in Italy account for almost one third of the global toll, which currently stands at 7,955.
Doctors have described patients who would normally be in intensive care having to be left on wards without the equipment or staff to properly treat them.
Among the hospitals struggling to cope is the 950-bed Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in the affluent city of Bergamo.
The city is situated in the region of Lombardy in the north, which was the first region in the country to be locked down as the crisis first got underway.
Almost half the hospital's beds are currently occupied by coronavirus patients, and three of its four most senior staff are currently at home ill.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, an intensive care specialist Mirco Nacoti at the hospital, said: "Until three weeks ago, we did everything for every patient.
"Now we have to choose which patients to put in intensive care. This is catastrophic."
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Dr Angelo Giupponi, an emergency response coordinator at the hospital, added that his team is now taking 2,500 calls a day.
Reports have also emerged of people experiencing heart attacks having to wait an hour on the phone before even speaking to somebody because of the volume of calls being received.
Dr Sergio Cattaneo, head of anesthesiology and intensive care at a hospital in Brescia, also in northern Italy, told the Journal: "What is really shocking – something we had not been able to forecast and brought us to our knees – is the quickness the epidemic spreads.
"If the spreading of this epidemic is not put under control, it will bring all hospitals to their knees."
Referencing the situation in Italy at a press conference last night, prime minister Boris Johnson said: "Every country in the world has the same.
"This is a disease that is so dangerous and so infectious that, without drastic measures to check its progress, it would overwhelm any health system in the world.
"I've used the Italian health system. It is excellent.
"And the problem is not with the health systems. It's the numbers of sufferers."
He added: "We must stop the disease spreading to the point where it overwhelms our NHS."
A nurse is tested for coronavirus at a new intensive care unit
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