ROME: Italy's nursing homes, where the COVID-19 epidemic is believed to have killed thousands of people, did not have the equipment needed to protect staff or residents, a survey by the country's top health body showed on Wednesday (Jun 17).
Since the outbreak emerged in the northern region of Lombardy in late February, the homes reported a steep increase in fatalities, although many patients died without being tested.
Many of the 1,356 homes in the survey, which had more than 97,000 residents as of Feb 1, are in the regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna, which were most heavily affected by the epidemic.
The survey by the Superior Health Institute, which covered more than a third of Italy's nursing homes, reported 9,154 fatalities but just 680 had tested positive.
Over 3,000 had "influenza-like" or pneumonia symptoms, which may have been related to coronavirus.
The nursing homes surveyed said they were unequipped to deal with the surge in new cases and fatalities Italy faced between March and April.
Some 77 per cent reported a lack of masks and gloves, while 34 per cent said they did not have enough doctors and nurses. Around 21 per cent had not received sufficient information on how to deal with the virus and 26 per cent said they had difficulty isolating those who tested positive.
Early in March, some homes appealed for more protective equipment, but despite this many were told to take in COVID-19 patients to ease the pressure on hospitals, especially in Lombardy where prosecutors have recently opened investigations.
The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on Feb 21 now stands at 34,448, the agency said, the fourth highest in the world after those of the United States, Britain and Brazil.
The number of confirmed cases amounts to 237,828, the seventh highest global tally.