DOCTORS in coronavirus-ravaged northern Italy have been told to save ventilators for under-60s because of a desperate shortage, according to reports.
One medic said older patients are not being offered life-saving treatment as hospitals have been overwhelmed by thousands of critically ill sufferers.
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Italy is battling the world's worst coronavirus outbreak with more than 59,000 confirmed cases and 5,476 deaths.
The sickest patients are left gasping for air and need machines to help them breathe – but there are not enough to go round.
Israeli doctor Gai Peleg, who is working to save lives in Parma, said things are only getting worse as the number of patients keeps growing.
He told Israel's Channel 12 that in northern Italy the orders are not to allow those over 60 access to ventilators.
The limited number of machines are being saved for younger patients with a better chance of survival, he said.
Dr Peleg revealed in his department, which receives coronavirus patients who are terminally ill, the focus is on allowing contact with loved ones during their last moments despite the strict quarantine.
Health services across the world face shortages of equipment caused by the rapid spread of Covid-19.
In the UK, the NHS in racing to get more ventilators and struck a deal with private clinics to use their beds and equipment as the crisis grows.
In northern Italy, wards are already overrun with the number of patients who need urgent care.
Pictures last week showed sufferers being treated in "bubble helmets", while others were left on isolation trolleys on corridors.
Earlier this month doctors told how they had to make life-or-death decisions on who to treat after a "tsunami" of sickness.
Connor McAnish, a British doctor working on an intensive care unit in the region, described an "endless stream" of patients.
He told ITV: "They’ve had to build a tent outside the hospital [and] there are burials about every 30 minutes in the cemetery.
"With so many patients coming in, when someone dies it’s almost as if we say, 'OK we couldn’t do anything for this person, now we can take another person and see if their condition will improve'.”
Reports had previously emerged from Lombardy of patients who would normally be in intensive care having to be left on wards without the resources to properly treat them.
Response systems are also receiving in excess of 2,500 emergency calls per day.
Morgues and crematoriums are also unable to cope in cities such as Bergamo, where the Army was called in to ferry bodies elsewhere.
Yesterday a chilling picture showed a man in a face mask collapsed on a street in Rome.
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Sunday alone saw another 5,560 new confirmed cases in Italy as the death toll rose by 651.
The mortality rate in the country is close to 10 per cent, partly due to the ageing population who are more likely to die if they catch it.
Total lockdowns have been imposed in Italy, France and Spain where police are using drones and the threat of jail to enforce the quarantine.
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