Italy awards knighthoods to 57 coronavirus heroes

Italy awards knighthoods to 57 coronavirus heroes
Healthcare workers at Tor Vergata hospital in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
From nurses to medical researchers, teachers to volunteers, the Italian president has honoured dozens of people who helped others during Italy's coronavirus epidemic.

President Sergio Mattarella this week awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Italy's highest honour, to 57 people who stood out for their community service during the Covid-19 emergency.

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They include Annalisa Malara and Laura Ricevuti, two doctors in Lombardy who helped the first Italian coronavirus patient make a full recovery, as well as biologist Maria Rosaria Capobianchi and eight of her colleagues at the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome who helped isolate the DNA sequence of the novel virus.

Maurizio Cecconi, head of the anaesthesia and intensive care unit at Humanitas Hospital in Milan and one of the first doctors to warn colleagues around the world about the gravity of the new illness, was also knighted. So was Elena Pagliarini, a nurse in Cremona whose picture went viral when she was shown slumped over a desk in exhaustion at the end of her shift.

Pagliarini, who contracted the coronavirus but has since recovered, said that the honour was “very moving for me and for the whole nursing sector I represent”. 

Hospital cleaner Concetta D’Isanto, who works in a hospital in Milan, was knighted on behalf of cleaning staff everywhere, the president's office said.

There were also honours for other non-healthcare workers who helped in whatever way they could: like Alessandro Bellantoni, a taxi driver from Calabria who drove a 3-year-old child 1,300 km for free so she could see cancer specialists in Rome at the height of the pandemic.

Knighthoods also went to Riccardo Emanuele Tiritiello, a student in Milan who along with his father and grandfather cooked free meals for doctors and nurses, and Francesco Pepe, a restaurant owner in Campania who used his kitchen to bake for elderly people and others in need.

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Others were honoured for their generosity, including Mahmoud Lufti Ghuniem, a food delivery rider who spent over half of what he earns in a month buying 1,000 face masks that he donated to the Red Cross in Turin, and Rosa Maria Lucchetti, a supermarket cashier in Le Marche who gave emergency call operators three prepaid cards of €250 each to spend on groceries.

Another knighthood went to Piero Floreno, a long-time sufferer from severe motor neurone disease who offered a public hospital in Piedmont one of his two ventilators for use by Covid-19 patients.

Other people gave their time and skills, such as Maxime Mbanda, a player on Italy's national rugby union team who volunteered as an ambulance assistant in Parma, teacher Cristina Avancini, who continued giving remote lessons in Vicenza despite the fact that her contract had expired, and Irene Coppola, a fashion designer from Gallipoli who sewed through the night to make more than 1,000 face masks and helped create a see-through version for people who lip-read.

Renato Favero and Cristian Fracassi, a doctor and an engineer in Lombardy who worked together on a way to adapt high-street snorkelling masks into emergency oxygen masks, were also knighted.


Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

While the honours went to individuals, they symbolize the joint efforts made by many more people in Italy “in the name of solidarity and constitutional values”, the president's office said in a statement.

The knighthoods were announced on June 2nd, the day Italy celebrates the founding of its modern republic.

The national holiday is traditionally one of two occasions per year when Italy awards knighthoods for “merit acquired by the nation”.


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