From Russia with love: developing world sends aid to crisis-hit Italy

By Virginia Hebrero

Rome, Mar 23 (efe-epa).- Ten days ago the president of the Italian Red Cross highlighted the “strange sensation” produced by the fact that Italy, a rich country and third economy in the Eurozone, became a recipient of international aid due to the coronavirus crisis.

Francesco Rocca did so at a press conference when he thanked a group of nine Chinese specialists who had arrived with a shipment of 30 tons of medical equipment.

They have now been joined by medical teams from Cuba and Russia in efforts to beat the virus in Lombardy, ground zero of Italy’s outbreak.

Experts who fought against Covid-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the original focus of the pandemic, brought a shipment of mechanical respirators, ventilators, electrocardiograms and 10,000s of masks.

Italy has overtaken China on the number of coronavirus deaths, with almost 5,500 including 3,500 in Lombardy, and has 47,000 confirmed cases.

The Mediterranean country welcomed a delegation of 52 Cuban doctors and nurses who arrived on Sunday night from Havana on a special Alitalia flight.

Medics from the Caribbean island have been hardened in some of the worst battles, such as the Ebola epidemic in Africa or cholera in Haiti, and are generally sent to developing countries.

Cuban ambassador to Italy José Carlos Rodríguez tweeted that the medics had come “without distinction, based on humanistic and solidarity values” to help Italy contain the disease.

The group, which responded to a request for help from Lombardy authorities were taken in coaches to the city of Crema, to work in its hospital, and will later be sent to a field hospital in Bergamo.

A little later, as night began to fall, the first of nine military transport planes chartered by Russia’s defence ministry landed at the Pratica Di Mare military airport near Rome to help Lombardy’s overstretched health service.

Foreign minister Luigi Di Maio tweeted from the base: “The night will be long here in Pratica di Mare. The first two planes from Russia have already arrived.

“The other seven planes will land every two hours and will bring face masks, lung ventilators, protective suits, doctors and other aid to Italy.”

The planes carried eight medical teams, including specialists and virologists a total of 120 people, as well as equipment and trucks to disinfect areas contaminated by the virus in Lombardy.

The planes and the trucks bore the Italian and Russian flags in the shape of hearts with the phrase “From Russia with Love”, a nod to the 1960s James Bond film of that title.

Italy urgently needs more medical staff, nine per cent of infections in the country have been health workers, and 20 doctors have died after becoming infected through their work.

Doctors Without Borders has also been supporting Italian health authorities in the response to the pandemic.

The international medical humanitarian organisation has deployed staff to four hospitals in the Lombardy province, including infectious disease specialists, anaesthetists and nurses.

Unicef also announced that given the “dramatic situation”, it will send aid to Italy “on an exceptional basis in the coming days”, in particular surgical masks, surgical gloves, goggles, gowns and thermometers.

Francesco Samengo, president of Unicef ??Italy, said the country is “experiencing the most serious global health crisis of the last 100 years, of unexpected, gigantic proportions”. EFE-EPA

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