ROME, Italy — Northern Italian leaders warned Sunday that they were running out of beds and artificial respirators to help victims in the European epicenter of the novel coronavirus.
Their pleas for help came as the Vatican took the drastic step of canceling Easter week celebrations that were set to begin April 5.
The government also prepared to unveil family support measures aimed at helping millions cope with a pandemic that many now view as Italy’s biggest crisis since World War II.
Only occasional joggers and a few locals carrying grocery bags could be seen on the streets of Rome on a sunny afternoon of Italy’s first weekend under effective lockdown.
“I am not really interested in what people tell us about religion,” pensioner Roman said after the Vatican announced that its Easter observances “will take place without the physical presence of the faithful.”
“I’m interested in what people tell us about our health.”
Milan’s Lombardy region governor Attilio Fontana said the situation in areas around Italy’s financial capital Milan was “getting worse.”
“We are close to the point where we will no longer be able to resuscitate people because we will be out of intensive care unit beds,” Fontana told Italy’s Sky TG24 channel.
“We need those machines (doctors) use to ventilate lungs, artificial respirators that unfortunately we cannot find,” Fontana said.
“As soon as those respirators arrive from abroad, we will be ready to go on the attack.”
The Lombardy region has 966 of the 1,441 deaths recorded in Italy over the past three weeks — more than the rest of Europe combined.
The region of 10 million — slightly smaller but more economically productive than neighboring Switzerland to the north — also has 11,685 infections and 732 people in intensive care, according to official figures.
Milan Mayor Beppe Sala said he has managed to secure shipments of surgical masks from China to help cover a growing shortage.
“Milan has always had excellent relations with the main Chinese cities and I made a few phone calls over the past few days in search of masks,” the Milan mayor said.
“The first shipment arrived (Friday) and we will now distribute them to doctors, to our staff.”
European Commission also announced the imminent delivery of one million masks from Germany.
Yet the situation remained critical despite Lombardy enjoying a world-class healthcare system that has been consistently praised by the World Health Organization for its level of equipment and organization of staff.
Lombardy welfare councilor Giulio told reporters Saturday that “there are no more ambulances” in areas around Milan.
The governor of Venice’s Veneto region to the east also called on “everyone to remain in isolation” to avoid putting hospitals under further strain.
“If you do not follow the rules, the health system will crash and I will have to impose a curfew,” Veneto governor Luca Zaia warned.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte insisted on Sunday that his government was paying “maximum attention” to the situation in the north.
His government was set to unveil a new crisis plan that reportedly includes family relief measures such as parental leave pay and help for the self-employed.
The government said it was also in discussion with banks about a suspension of some family mortgage payments.