Italy begins Covid curfew as health service faces collapse with 9-hour hospital queues and hundreds of doctors infected

ITALY has introduced a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am as ambulances face nine-hour hospital queues and hundreds of doctors catch coronavirus every day.

Following a surge in Covid-19 cases, the Italian government has split the country's regions into red, orange and yellow zones, depending on local infection rates and hospital occupancy.

In an effort to stop hospitals from being overwhelmed, four regions – Lombardy, Piedmont, Valle dAosta in the north and Calabria – have been placed in the red tier, banning people from leaving their homes except for essential reasons.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the measures on Wednesday night.

“Our intensive care capacity could be exhausted in a matter of weeks, we have to intervene,” Conte said.

Except for a few circumstances, no one will be allowed to enter or leave red zone regions or even travel between their towns.

Non-essential stores, bars and restaurants will be close, and only nursery, primary and the first year of middle school will have in-person classes, but hair salons can stay open.

People can exercise by themselves while wearing masks near their homes.

Two other regions have been placed in the orange tiers – Puglia in Italy's mainland heel and the southern island of Sicily.

Bars and restaurants will shut in these areas, but shops can remain open.

People can move freely within their towns and cities, but cannot travel to other towns in the same region.

All the remaining regions, including Lazio around the capital Rome, are yellow, meaning there are no restrictions other than those imposed nationwide.

The nationwide restrictions include a curfew from 10pm to 5am, closure of museums and exhibitions, and closure of shopping centres at weekends.

The measures have been introduced following reports of nine-hour ambulance queues at hospitals.

Dr Silvana Di Florio, head of ICU nursing at the Tor Vergata Hospital in Rome, told Sky News: "Now we are facing a war. We are tired. We are few. Some are sick, and with few resources.

"But we are always present, always prepared, always really careful."

At other hospitals, patients were waiting up to 18 hours in ambulances outside hospitals as staff struggled to find enough beds, The Times reports.

"We can’t unload suspected Covid cases into emergency rooms to spend hours sitting next to uninfected patients while they wait for a bed, so we are forced to keep them in parked ambulances," an official in Rome told the newspaper.

In hospitals across Italy, more than 200 doctors and nurses are reportedly catching coronavirus every day, making it more difficult to cope with the surge in infections.

During the new curfew, expected to last until December 3, people can only leave their homes for work, medical reasons or emergencies.

Under the nationwide measures, capacity on public transport has been cut from 80 per cent to 50 per cent.

All secondary school classes have also been moved online.

Gyms, cinemas and theatres have already closed, while restaurants and bars must shut at 6pm.

However, unlike Italy's national lockdown in the spring, all factories will remain open across the country.

Conte said the lockdown will begin on Friday to allow time to organise and the measures will be reviewed every two weeks.

Under a separate decree, expected on Thursday, the government is set to approve a new stimulus package worth at least 1.5 billion euros to support the economy.

On Wednesday, Italy's daily coronavirus cases topped 30,000 for another day.

The northern region of Lombardy accounted for more than one quarter of the 30,550 reported cases. The Health Ministry said there were 352 deaths reported in the last 24 hours.

Italy has confirmed 790,377 coronavirus cases and 39,764 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany has deployed 5,350 soldiers to help with testing and tracing contacts of coronavirus patients.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Christina Routsi said a pool of 15,000 military personnel have been set aside to help cope with the country's pandemic response.

Germany reported 17,214 cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 577,593. Deaths also rose by 160 to a confirmed total of 10,812 since the start of the pandemic.

From Britain to Turkey, European countries have reimposed strict curbs this week, echoing moves in spring when the virus first hit Europe following its emergence in China.

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