Italy’s ex-PM and health minister cleared in Covid investigation

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The Local/AFP ([email protected])
Italy’s ex-PM and health minister cleared in Covid investigation
Former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) talks with Health Minister Roberto Speranza in parliament during the Covid pandemic on January 19th, 2021. (File photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / POOL / AFP)

Former prime minister Giuseppe Conte and his health minister were not to blame for Covid deaths in northern Italy when the pandemic first broke out, an Italian court has ruled.


Italy’s former prime minister Giuseppe Conte and former health minister Roberto Speranza were cleared on Wednesday in an investigation into alleged mismanagement of the first phase of the Covid pandemic.

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the Lombardy province worst hit by the first wave of infections in early 2020, had investigated Conte and Speranza on suspicion of “aggravated culpable epidemic” and manslaughter over accusations that the government’s conduct at the start of the coronavirus pandemic had been “improper”.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

At the time, many viewed Italy's 'red zone' lockdown measures as draconian - but relatives of those killed in the first wave say restrictions did not go far enough to prevent deaths.

The province of Bergamo recorded 6,000 excess deaths during the first wave, and rights groups representing families of the victims claim some 4,000 could have been prevented if the areas had been immediately quarantined.

Italian police enforce a 'red zone' on February 23rd, 2020 at the entrance of the small Italian town of Codogno following the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Investigating magistrates had suspected Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They noted that in early March 2020 the government did not create a red zone in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.


Red zones had already been declared in late February for around a dozen nearby municipalities, including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

But on Wednesday both were cleared of culpability as the court in Brescia dismissed the case, ruling that the “accusations against the pair are baseless”.

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“There is no evidence of the connection between the dead and the failure to extend the red zone,” the court said.

“Speranza has adopted the health measures proposed to him by experts – measures which, moreover, at European level, have been among the most restrictive,” wrote the judges. “The crime of culpable epidemic for improper omissive conduct is therefore unrealistic.”


Speranza wrote on Facebook that he was “very relieved” by the ruling.

"Personally, I did everything possible during those terrible days to protect the health of Italians."

But relatives of Covid victims in Bergamo said the ruling was a “slap in the face for all of us”.

Members of the Sereni e Sempre Uniti group for relatives of Covid victims added that they were “disappointed and bitter” and plan to take the issue to the civil courts.


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