Italian PM to be grilled by prosecutors over govt handling of pandemic

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte addressing the Chamber of Deputies in Rome on April 21. (AP pic)

ROME:¬†Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the country’s health and interior ministers are to be questioned by prosecutors looking into how the government handled the coronavirus pandemic, news agencies reported.

Prosecutors from Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region worst hit by the virus, have launched a wide-ranging investigation into the health crisis, which has officially 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, with regional officials and the government blaming each other.

The government imposed its first red zone, around the town of Codogno, 24 hours after doctors discovered a patient with the virus.

It would go on to shut down 10 other towns, and then large areas of the north before imposing a nationwide lockdown.

Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese would be called on by prosecutors in Rome later Wednesday, according to the Corriere della Sera and the Sole 24 Ore dailies.

The team, lead by chief prosecutor Maria Cristina Rota, has already questioned the Lombardy region’s head Attilio Fontana and health minister Giulio Gallera, who insist it is the role of the national government to decide whether certain areas should be shut.

Codogno was shut down on Feb 21. Lombardy and 14 provinces in the neighbouring regions of Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna were closed on March 8, and the whole of Italy shut down two days later.

Gallera told Rota it was clear from Feb 23 that there were a lot of cases in the areas around Nembro and Alzano, but the government had failed to act, the reports said.

Conte said in April that “if Lombardy had wanted to, it could have made Alzano and Nembro red zones”.

The 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.

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