Picking up where we left off: the behind the scenes at REAS 2021

After the stop in 2020, we are back at REAS. On Wednesday evening before leaving to attend REAS 2021, the international emergency trade fair, I reviewed the photos from the last edition in 2019. I was scrolling through the photos and what I saw were smiles, people queuing at the stand (sometimes even crowded together to get Ferno T-shirts), hugs. All natural, carefree actions that Covid-19 took away from us. As I drove to the Montichiari exhibition centre I thought: “What will this year’s edition be like?”

2020 was a tough year for everyone, but it was especially hard on the emergency sector. It has been estimated that some 115,000 health workers died as a result of Covid, including doctors and nurses who found themselves on the front line facing an unknown enemy. Some of them were pensioners called back to work to deal with the emergency. If these numbers haven’t made enough of an impression on you already, I would like to quote here a statement made by Howard Catton (chief executive of ICN) during an interview: “These 115,000 deaths are the equivalent of commercial airliner crashing with no survivors every day for 17 months”.

On Thursday I entered the conference centre where everything was still being set up. We had to finish setting up the stand for the start of the trade fair the next morning, and despite the usual hustle and bustle – the comings and goings of workers painting, erecting, assembling plasterboard walls and running cables – the atmosphere was different. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it very well. Maybe it was just the strange feeling of starting again with the trade fairs after a year off? To tell you the truth, I was a bit worried. I was worried about the guys in the team who, although vaccinated and wearing masks, would potentially be exposed to three intense days of contact with a lot of people. I was worried about the outcome of the fair. Would there be the same participation as in other years? Did it make sense to be there? Should we have made different choices? These were the questions I asked myself as, with the other guys, we laid out the red carpet and positioned the stretchers.

On Friday morning I was the first one to enter the exhibition centre. At eight o’clock security opened the door to the fitters, and I was the first to enter with my fitter’s pass, my vaccination certificate, and my doubts. At 9.00 a.m. visitors began to arrive, a turnout never seen before, the stand filled up quickly and any doubts disappeared, leaving behind nothing but certainty.

I didn’t see the smiles, but only because of the masks. I didn’t see the hugs, but only because of compliance with Covid rules. But I could really feel the enthusiasm and the desire to start again, to begin where we left off. And it was by no means a ‘as if the pandemic did not happen’. No, it was quite the opposite: as if the pandemic had strengthened the will of the emergency workers.

We know that the 115,000 deaths of healthcare workers worldwide is only an estimate. I would like to add an entirely Italian consideration to this issue. The numbers of doctors and nurses who have died are known and disclosed by the professional associations, what we will never know is the number of volunteer emergency workers who have died dealing with this emergency, which has brought us to our knees. We must not forget that even when no precise instructions came from the government, voluntary associations went out with emergency workers to help patients. Our ‘centodiciottisti’ (118 emergency response workers) were ingenious and made up for the shortcomings of a collapsing health system, even going so far as to use plastic rubbish bags to go out on duty, because there were no tyvek suits, but people who needed oxygen had to be helped.

And it is to them that I want to dedicate this 2021 edition. Because if we can start again today, if we are still here today, it is to them that we must say thank you.

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