Italians over the age of 80 will be denied intensive care as the healthcare system groans under thousands of coronavirus cases.
With 27,980 confirmed cases in the country, hospitals don’t have enough ventilators to treat every patient.
Total deaths have reached 2,158 with 349 in the last 24 hours.
To receive medical care, a patient must be under the age of 80 and have fewer than 5 known ailments, according to a documents seen by The Telegraph.
The document, produced by the civil protection department of the Piedmont region, one of the worst regions hit, is a new guideline for staff.
It reads: “The criteria for access to intensive therapy in cases of emergency must include age of less than 80 or a score on the Charlson comorbidity Index [which indicates how many other medical conditions the patient has] of less than 5.”
One doctor said the guideline echoes a war-time response where provisions are so sparse officials are forced to prioritise the fittest.
They said: “[Who lives and who dies] is decided by age and by the [patient’s] health conditions. This is how it is in a war.”
The authors of the document, medical professionals, were forced to make a moral judgement in bid to treat as many patients as possible.
“Informed by the principle of maximizing benefits for the largest number,” they suggest that “the allocation criteria need to guarantee that those patients with the highest chance of therapeutic success will retain access to intensive care.”
The criteria has not been implemented yet and requires approval from a scientific community. The guidelines will then be sent to each hospital.
Other patients who need medical assistance but not intensive care will still receive all treatment.
The document adds: “The criteria set out guidelines if the situation becomes of such an exceptional nature as to make the therapeutic choices on the individual case dependent on the availability of resources, forcing [hospitals] to focus on those cases in which the cost/benefit ratio is more favorable for clinical treatment.”
Meanwhile, other medics warn of the high number of cases that will need intensive care support.
Dr. Maurizio Cecconi, the head of the department of anesthesia and intensive care units at Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan, said while the majority of people infected with COVID-19 will recover solo, a high-percentage need further care.
He said: “Don’t underestimate this. This is not a normal flu. This is serious.”
Hospitals, he said, should be preparing for a surge of patients including increasing ICU bed capacity.
But “do not think that you can win this battle just by increasing your capacity,” Mr Cecconi added.
“Containment, mitigation maneuvers, slowing down maneuvers are equally important if not more important than anything we can do as doctors.”
The news comes as the coordinator for intensive care in the northern Lombardy region warned the health care system is “one step from collapse” despite efforts to free-up beds.
Antonio Pesenti told CNN: “We are now being forced to set up intensive care treatment in corridors.
“We’ve emptied entire hospital sections to make space for seriously sick people.”
Italians are now facing one of the toughest lockdowns, as the country most afflicted outside of China.
Prime minister Giusepe Conte ordered all businesses to close and introduced social distancing measures.