Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces Italy’s public prosecutors along with two others, the Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the Interior Minister Luciana Lamorghese over the government’s response to coronavirus deaths. An investigation was launched on April 8 by prosecutors from Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region which is the worst hit area in the country killing more than 34,000 people in the country.
The bone of contention and agitation amongst victims who are demanding justice for the death of their loved ones are, why the towns of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro both in the province of Bergamos were not turned into ‘red-zones’ despite the detection of coronavirus cases on February 23 and why the former town was closed, sanitized and reopened almost immediately after it recorded its first case.
Contrarily, the government imposed on Bergamo the country’s first red zone on February 21, exactly 24 hours after doctors had discovered a patient positive for COVID-19. The government went further ahead to shut down 10 other towns, and then large areas of the north, before imposing a nationwide lockdown. Friday's interrogations aimed to determine if there were grounds for any charges of criminal negligence.
Victims’ relatives cry foul
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, relatives of COVID-19 victims filed 50 legal complaints at the Bergamo prosecutor's office, saying Alzano and Nembro should have been shut down as soon as the coronavirus was detected there. The citizens' group called Noi Denunceremo (We Will Report) was created by Luca Fusco, who lost her father at the beginning of the pandemic in Bergamo, along with some other affected relatives, gathered their stories, some of which turned into testimonies for magistrates. For what started out on a Facebook platform for families to share their stories, it has currently garnered over 57,000 new members.
The deputy director of the group, Stefano Fusco told Aljazeera,
"We want justice but before obtaining justice, we need to find the truth and to understand what happened. We need to know if it has been a tragedy or if someone, who had the tools and the responsibility to contain the outbreak, didn't act or did it, but in the wrong way”.
Who gets blamed?
According to a law from 1979 and subsequent amendments, regional governors and mayors have the authority to adopt emergency measures, including cordoning off specific areas on public health grounds. Apparently Lombardy's top health official Giulio Gallera belongs to the centre-right Forza Italia party and the region's President Attilio Fontana is a member of the far-right League.
It appears to be a political rift as both parties are in opposition to the government, ruled by the Five Star Movement and the left-wing Democratic Party. The centre-periphery fight is not uncommon for Italy. But the current situation also has an additional dimension.
Marco Ruotolo, a professor at Rome Tre University, told Aljazeera,
"There are always conflicts between the central government and the regions when the respective majorities are from opposing parties. There was hope that in the face of such an emergency, there could have been a sincere collaboration, instead the division along party lines has deeply affected the handling of the outbreak, especially in the early days."
The public prosecutor will have to judge whether there have been attempts by the Lombardy region to warn the central government of the necessity to intervene as the pandemic was a national rather than a local threat.