Coronavirus deaths are slowing in Italy, but cemeteries can't keep up with the number of bodies

Italy struggles to bury virus victims
Italy struggles to bury virus victims 02:29

The coronavirus death rate in hard-hit Italy may be leveling off, with the smallest one-day increase in more than a month reported Wednesday. But the crisis isn't over, and people are dying faster than the cemeteries can bury them.

The country has reported almost 18,000 deaths from the pandemic, more than anywhere else in the world, but that number could be even higher.

Crematoriums in Bergamo, a city in Northern Italy, are buckling, so the bodies are in a makeshift, and unrefrigerated, morgue. The military is hurrying to relocate them because of the heat.

Captain Emanuele Tanzilli told CBS News foreign correspondent Chris Livesay that there are so many bodies, the military can't keep up. "We already moved 600 coffins during this month," he said.

Nearly 30 coffins were crowded inside a church, closed to parishioners. But that's not as bad as it used to be. Earlier in the crisis, it was "completely full" Tanzilli said.

Perhaps nowhere have things been more dire than the town of Nembro, outside of Bergamo. The town tallies more dead per capita than anywhere else in the country.

One man, Pierluigi Squinzi, said he knew 100 people who have died from the virus. Many of them were members of his mountaineering club.

After weeks of catastrophic statistics, Italy's infection and death rates are finally slowing. Doctors credit the stay-at-home policies adopted in March.

But, they're not out of the woods, and doctors like Giovanni Vitale are still making life-or-death decisions every day.

"You need to decide … who is very unlikely to benefit," Vitale said. "And therefore, either he makes it or he doesn't. And I remember the gaze in the eyes of all of them. All of them."

It's that gaze from the victims he hopes will soon become a distant memory, along with the disease itself, but, he said it's too soon to let down our guard.