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Europe Rushing to Build Field Hospitals04/01 06:03

   Facing intense surges in the need for hospital ICU beds, European nations 
are on a building and hiring spree, throwing together makeshift hospitals and 
shipping coronavirus patients out of overwhelmed cities via high-speed trains 
and military jets. The key question is whether they will be able to find enough 
healthy medical staff to make it all work.

   ROME (AP) -- Facing intense surges in the need for hospital ICU beds, 
European nations are on a building and hiring spree, throwing together 
makeshift hospitals and shipping coronavirus patients out of overwhelmed cities 
via high-speed trains and military jets. The key question is whether they will 
be able to find enough healthy medical staff to make it all work.

   Even as the virus slowed its growth in overwhelmed Italy and in China, where 
it first emerged, hospitals in Spain and France reached their breaking points 
and the U.S. and Britain  braced for incoming waves of desperately ill people.

   "It feels like we are in a third world country. We don't have enough masks, 
enough protective equipment, and by the end of the week we might be in need of 
more medication too," said Paris emergency worker Christophe Prudhomme.

   In a remarkable turnaround, rich economies where virus cases have exploded 
are welcoming help from the less wealthy. Russia sent medical equipment and 
masks to the U.S. on Wednesday. Cuba sent doctors to France. Turkey sent a 
planeload of masks, hazmat suits, goggles and disinfectants to Italy and Spain.

   London is just days from unveiling a 4,000-bed temporary hospital built in a 
massive convention center to take non-critical patients so British hospitals 
can free up space and keep ahead of expected virus demand. Still, there are 
concerns about finding thousands of medical workers to run it.

   Spain has already boosted its hospital beds by 20%. Dozens of hotels across 
Spain have been turned into recovery rooms, and authorities are building field 
hospitals in sports centers, libraries and exhibition halls.

   Europe's greatest need at the moment, however, is intensive care units, 
which are essential in a pandemic in which tens of thousands of patients 
quickly descend into acute respiratory distress. Those ICU units are much 
harder to cobble together quickly than standard hospital beds.

   Milan opened an intensive care field hospital Tuesday at the city 
fairgrounds for 200 patients, complete with a pharmacy and radiology wards. It 
expects to eventually employ some 900 staff. The move came after the health 
situation turned extreme in Italy's Lombardy region, where bodies overflowed in 
morgues, caskets piled up in churches and doctors were forced to decide in some 
cases which desperately ill patient would get a breathing machine.

   "We aren't happy to have done this," fairgrounds foundation head Enrico 
Pazzali said. "It something I never would have wanted to do."

   The pressure is easing on hard-hit Italian cities like Bergamo and Brescia 
as the rate of new infections in Italy has slowed and hospitals have boosted 
ICU capacity. Still, many people are dying at home or in nursing homes because 
hospitals are saturated and they could not get access to ICU breathing 
machines. 

   With over 12,400 dead so far, Italy has the most coronavirus deaths of any 
nation in the world.

   Italy, Britain and France are among countries that have called in medical 
students, retired doctors and even airplane attendants with first aid training 
to help, although all need re-training.

   The medical staffing shortage has been exacerbated by the high number of 
infected medical personnel. In Italy alone, nearly 10,000 medical workers have 
been infected and more than 60 doctors have died.

   Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, the head of Italy's institutes of health, said three 
weeks into a nationwide lockdown, the country is seeing the rate of new 
infections level off. 

   "(But) arriving at the plateau doesn't mean we have conquered the peak and 
we're done," he warned. "It means now we should start to see the decline if we 
continue to place maximum attention on what we do every day."

   In neighboring France, nearly 500 people died Tuesday and Paris hospitals 
are overflowing.

   "We had an extremely difficult night, we are at the end of our 
hospitalization capacity," Aurlien Rousseau, director of the Paris regional 
health agency, said Wednesday on France-Info radio.

   The Paris region more than doubled its ICU capacity over the past week -- 
but the beds are already full. So Paris was sending some critically ill 
patients to less-saturated regions on specially fitted high-speed trains 
Wednesday and Thursday. Others have been moved by military plane, helicopter or 
warship. 

   One reason Germany is in better shape  than all other European countries is 
its high proportion of ICU beds, at 33.9 per 100,000 people, compared to 8.6 in 
Italy.

   For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as 
fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with 
existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and can 
lead to death.

   As U.S. health authorities warned the number of dead could reach up to 
240,000 even with social distancing measures in place, the New York region also 
rushed to set up extra hospital capacity.

   A 1,000-bed emergency hospital set up at the mammoth Javits Convention 
Center began taking non-coronavirus patients Tuesday to help relieve the city's 
overwhelmed health system. A Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds was expected to 
accept patients soon, and the indoor tennis center that hosts the U.S. Open 
tournament is being turned into a hospital.

   "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," 
President Donald Trump said at a Tuesday briefing, as he extended social 
distancing guidelines until April 30. "We're going to go through a very tough 
two weeks."

   The U.S. recorded a big daily jump of 26,000 new cases, bringing its total 
infections to more than 189,000, the highest in the world. The U.S. death toll 
leapt to over 4,000, and refrigerated morgue trucks were parked on New York 
streets to collect the dead.

   Worldwide, more than 860,000 people have been infected and over 42,000 have 
died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Italy and Spain 
accounted for half of all the deaths. China, where it began late latest year, 
on Wednesday reported just 36 new COVID-19 cases.

   Some have chosen to ignore social distancing guidelines. In Louisiana, buses 
and cars filled a church parking lot Tuesday evening as worshippers flocked to 
hear a pastor who is facing charges for holding services despite a ban on 
gatherings.

   A few protesters also showed up at the Life Tabernacle Church, including one 
with a sign that read: "God don't like stupid." 

   Two ships carrying passengers and crew from an ill-fated South American 
cruise are urging Florida officials to let them dock. Two people aboard with 
the virus have died, and nine have tested positive. Trump said, for 
humanitarian reasons, Florida should do so.


(KR)

 
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