‘COVID-19 is more devastating than anything in history’
ROME - Intensive care beds full of people of every age.
Women and men are dying alone, unable to say goodbye to their loved ones. Funerals are held with no mourners. A line of military trucks are transporting bodies away from the city because there is no more space to bury them in town.
These heartbreaking images are now part of daily life in many areas of my home country, Italy.
More than twice as many people have died from this coronavirus in Italy than in China. A few weeks ago, these scenes - the result of the global COVID-19 pandemic - would have seemed unthinkable here in Italy.
As a Red Cross and Red Crescent worker, I try to be optimistic, but it is hard to keep a hopeful outlook when I see communities around the world not taking this virus seriously.
In Italy, as in many countries, I still notice all too many individuals who don't understand the importance of following simple rules on physical distancing.
I witness bogus or racist rumours about the virus on social media. I hear people saying that "this is only a flu" or "will only affect the elderly" - as if the latter would be acceptable. Each of these deeds affects how far this virus is spreading. It affects how many people will fall ill. It means more people will die.
Local volunteers, local communities, families, groups of friends and individuals have a great responsibility to stop COVID-19, and this is the moment. Take it from me. Take it from my country.
Practice physical distancing, be kind, check on your neighbours, run essential errands for older adults and people with compromised immune systems. Stay at home as much as possible, buy only what you need, cancel your party and yes - wash your hands many times a day.
Whether or not you have symptoms, your actions are critical to "flattening the curve" - the exponential growth of COVID-19 infections - and keeping your family and neighbours alive.
Recognise that people over 65 are not the only ones contracting the virus. Many younger people still get very sick and fill critical care beds. And do your part by staying healthy so that hospitals, doctors and nurses can continue to do their lifesaving jobs as time and resources dwindle.
Step up by donating blood. Like leaving your home occasionally for medical care and groceries, going to a blood drive is an essential act.
A blood shortage could be fatal for patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies, or patients suffering from cancer. One of the most important things you can do to ensure we don't have another health care crisis on top of the coronavirus is to give blood - not just now but throughout this pandemic.
Physical distancing, combined with social solidarity, is crucial to stopping this disease.
In northern Italy, the most affected area of our country, hospitals are full of people who need medical treatment.
How would you feel if doctors in your country had to choose between intubating a younger person with children or an older adult such as your mother, father or grandparent with high blood pressure, because they don't have enough beds for everyone? This could happen soon in Italy - a country with a robust health care system - if the epidemic curve doesn't flatten. This a tragedy affecting us all. It is like no other crisis in the past century.
In every country around the world we need to play our part to stop the spread of this disease. We all have a duty to play our role to stop more death and illness. There is hope. We are seeing the signs in several countries that this disease is being brought under control.
Yet, the sad scenes we are seeing of hospitals full to the brim and makeshift morgues is fast being mirrored now in Spain and soon in other countries.
Thousands of doctors, nurses and health professionals are falling ill. Some are dying.
At the Italian Red Cross we are sadly affected and some of our brave volunteers already passed away.
One day when this is over, we will spend time together and start hugging again. But right now there is no time to waste. Here in Italy we are suffering, and we know that COVID-19 is a more devastating disease than any we've seen in recent history.
Do your part to protect vulnerable people - those who have underlying health conditions, poor immune systems and those who are in the more at-risk age categories. Do it for yourself. Do it for the others. Do it now.
Francesco Rocca is the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and president of the Italian Red Cross.
Originally published as 'COVID-19 is more devastating than anything in history'