A video showing a man lying dead on the floor of a bathroom inside a packed Naples emergency room sparked outrage as it spread across Italy on Thursday, prompting government officials to call for “immediate intervention” as the coronavirus pandemic ripples across the country’s vulnerable south.
“This one is dead,” the person filming the video is heard saying as the camera points at a man lying underneath a sink in the bathroom at Cardarelli Hospital in Naples. Another patient is seen prostrate on a bed surrounded by uneaten food. “This one we don’t know whether he is alive or dead,” the person filming says.
In a statement on Wednesday, when the video was made public, the hospital said a patient with a “suspected Covid-19 infection” was found dead in the restroom of the emergency room. The cause of death was still under investigation, the statement said.
Raffaele Nespoli, a hospital spokesman, confirmed that the video was filmed inside the hospital’s emergency room.
The video resonated across Italy, where the searing images from the country’s overwhelmed northern hospitals during the first wave of the epidemic are still strong in people’s memories.
But this time the images came from Italy’s poorer and less equipped south — which has fewer hospital beds and intensive care units, experts say — casting a harsh light on that part of the country.
On Thursday the foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, said in a Facebook video that the army should go help the doctors and nurses in the southern Campania region, which includes Naples.
“It’s a difficult moment for all the Italian regions,” said Mr. Di Maio, who is from Campania. “But there is an emergency in the emergency, which are the images coming from the Campania hospitals.”
Protecting the south was a major driver for Italy’s national lockdown in March.
“In the first phase the south was preserved,” said Giovanni Rezza, the director of the prevention department at the Health Ministry, in a phone interview, adding that a “wider and more generalized spread” today, including the south, was worrying him.
“Some areas in the south have a less developed health care system as compared to that of areas hit in the first phase,” he said, referring to the north. “Since even those areas didn’t hold out, the situation could be even more dangerous in the south.”
Italy on Wednesday passed a grim milestone of one million total coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. More than half of those people are still currently positive, according to government statistics, and many of them live in Italy’s south.
Although the number of cases in the south is still lower than in the hardest-hit areas in the north, the declining health situation in many southern areas is a significant factor pushing some experts to call for a nationwide lockdown.
“We need a national lockdown,” said Massimo Andreoni, a virologist and the scientific director of SIMIT, the Italian society of infectious and tropical diseases. “If we wait for Naples to have Milan’s numbers we’ll make a massacre.”
Last week the government locked down the southern region of Calabria, where the coronavirus is putting enormous stress on a health care system weakened by years of bad management, and political and criminal exploitation.
Also last week, Calabria’s regional health commissioner resigned after an embarrassing interview aired on Italian television. In the video, the official, Saverio Cotticelli, said it was not his responsibility to draft a regional coronavirus plan. To demonstrate as much, he retrieved an official document that he read out loud, and he discovered in real time that, in fact, the responsibility for the plan belonged to him.
Then, asked about the number of intensive care beds available in the region, he deferred for specifics to a man who identified himself as a “doorman.”
Meanwhile, the new health commissioner, Giuseppe Zuccatelli, once said that the only way to pass the virus is to amorously kiss for 15 minutes. “Otherwise you don’t catch the virus.”
After the statement was harshly criticized, Italy’s health minister explained that the “inappropriate” video was filmed in the first phase of the pandemic and that Mr. Zuccatelli had already apologized.
Naples has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic’s second wave and the mayor has repeatedly asked citizens to respect social distancing rules, saying the city’s hospitals are “collapsing.”
Rosario La Monica, 30, who is from a town near Naples, wrote on Facebook on Thursday that he had posted the video of the man in the hospital bathroom.
“I splashed some water in his face and then I asked for help but no one paid any attention to me,” he told Ansa news agency about the man in the video. “They arrived half an hour later and he was already dead.”
In the hospital statement on Thursday, officials said that the footage’s publication was “despicable,” adding the filmmaker was exploiting the situation to generate panic. In a separate statement on Wednesday, Fiorella Paladino, the primary doctor at the Cardarelli emergency room, denied Mr. La Monica’s accusations.
Mr. Di Maio, the foreign minister, said the images spoke for themselves.
“The images of the patient found dead in the bathroom of the Cardarelli are shocking,” he wrote on Facebook, adding that the video was the latest, and worst, example of Covid-related debacles that he has seen in the southern region of Campania.
He wrote that he had received reports of doctors treating people in cars in parking lots, of patients dying in ambulances because no hospital would take them, of the sick left at home despite calls for help.
“Now we need to act immediately, especially in the south which risks implosion,” he said.