Milano City welcomed top international designers as part of the renowned annual Fashion Week.
But hospital beds attached to ventilators and oxygen now line over 269,000 sq ft of its pavilions – a telling sign of the emergency. The pandemic has killed more people in Italy than in any other country.
The president of the Lombardy region, of which Milan is the capital, said the venue would eventually acquire a new significance. “It will be the symbol of our victory against coronavirus,” Attilio Fontana told reporters at the hospital’s inauguration on Tuesday.
As the outbreak strains the resources of frontline hospitals, countries battling coronavirus have sought to relieve the burden by putting their design and engineering skills to the test. Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak is thought to have originated, accomplished the mammoth task of building a 645,000 sq ft makeshift medical facility equipped with 1,000 beds in just 10 days.
Milan’s hospital, built over the same amount of time by 500 workers divided over two continuous shifts, will provide CT scans and accommodate 200 patients in need of intensive care, which authorities hope will relieve much of the burden.
Rather than being sent to overwhelmed Italian hospitals or to German hospitals with spare capacity – this happened for the first time last week – some patients with respiratory conditions related to coronavirus will now be sent to the centre. The maze of pavilions that once hosted catwalks and global debates on food and sustainability is now marked by red and green signs – the former indicating a risk of contagion and a need for personal protection equipment.
Hospitals at the forefront in the battle against the virus have struggled to build dedicated areas for infected patients and increase their intensive care ability.
Milan’s Policlinico – a top-notch facility at the forefront of the fight against the virus – has increased intensive care units from 22 to 60 beds since the beginning of the crisis one month ago.
Ezio Belleri, director at Policlinico, said the Fiera Milano facility will be a “fundamental tool in the fight against Covid-19”.
The first 28 beds are scheduled to become available on Monday and more will be gradually rolled out as much-needed ventilators arrive from China.
According to Fontana, the Italian government is considering using the same blueprint to build hubs in the centre and in the south of Italy, where the sanitary system would not be able to withstand a similar outbreak to that of the wealthier northern regions.
More than 3,900 patients are in intensive care in Italy, which has recorded the world’s highest death toll – estimated at 11,591 – and a total number of cases of 101,739.
The new cases announced on Tuesday were the lowest increase since 17 March, bringing hope for a nation that has been crippled by the pandemic.
Doctors have told The Independent that they have been overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis.