Italian prosecutors to question PM Conte over handling of virus crisis

Italian prosecutors to question PM Conte over handling of virus crisis
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is among those to be questioned as part of the investigation. File photo: AFP
Prosecutors are to question Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday as part of an investigation into whether the government handled the coronavirus pandemic correctly.
Prosecutors from Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region worst hit by the virus, have launched an investigation into the crisis, which has killed over 34,000 people in Italy.
 
They are looking in particular at why a red zone was not enforced in February around the towns of Nembro and Alzano, in the worst-hit Lombardy region, Italian media reported on Wednesday.
 
Local officials and the national government blame each other.
 
The crisis has claimed more thsn 34,000 lives according to the official death toll – which is thought to be underestimated.
 
Italy was the first European country to be ravaged by the virus, and the first westrn democracy to impose lockdown measures – a move widely described as a “gamble” at the time, and watched closely by other world leaders as the outbreak spread and they decided whether to follow suit.
 
The government imposed the country's first red zone, around the town of Codogno, 24 hours after doctors discovered a patient positive for COVID-19.
 
The town of Codogno, Lombardy, was the first to be declared a “red zone”. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
 
Codogno was closed on February 21st. Lombardy and 14 provinces in the neighbouring regions of Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna followed on March 8th, and the whole of Italy was shut down two days later.
 
Conte, as well as Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, will be called on by prosecutors in Rome later Wednesday, the Corriere della Sera and Sole 24 Ore dailies reported.
 
‘Blame game’
 
The team has already questioned Lombardy regional governor Attilio Fontana and its health minister Giulio Gallera. They insist it was up to Rome to decide whether certain areas should be shut.
 
Gallera has said it was clear from February 23rd that there were a lot of cases in the areas around Nembro and Alzano, towns in the Bergamo province, but the government had failed to act.
 
Conte replied that “if Lombardy had wanted to, it could have made Alzano and Nembro red zones”.
 
But a scientific committee advising the government and the national health institute had warned on March 3 that these towns should be locked down, according to the Corriere della Sera.
 
The Bergamo prosecutors will also speak to the head of Italy's national health institute (ISS) Silvio Brusaferro, and the World Health Organization's Italian government adviser Walter Ricciardi, the reports said.
 
As opposition politicians attacked the government on Wednesday, Andrea Orlando of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), part of the government coalition, said it was normal procedure for prosecutors to speak with institutional representatives.
 
Fifty relatives of coronavirus victims – members of a committee called “Noi Denunceremo” (We Will Report)  – filed complaints with the Bergamo prosecutors earlier on Wednesday over the handling of the pandemic. It is the first such legal group action in Italy.
 
Bergamo prosecutors are conducting a wide-ranging investigation into the health crisis. Local families blame tardiness in enforcing a red zone, as well as years of cuts to healthcare across the northern Lombardy region.
 
While in other countries legal action is being taken against specific entities — citizens against the government in France, doctors against theirs in Zimbabwe — the Italian complaints are against “persons unknown”.
 
Members of the “Noi Denunceremo” (We will report) committee outside the Bergamo's prosecutor building on June 10th. Photo: AFP

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