Italy: Giuseppe Conte heard by the courts on the management of the coronavirus crisis

Will the Italian government have to answer for justice for its decisions made during the coronavirus epidemic? Giuseppe Conte was in any case heard on Friday for almost three hours by a magistrate. The prosecutor of Bergamo (North), Maria Cristina Rota, interviewed the Italian Prime Minister for the Prime Minister’s Office in Rome, within the framework of an investigation into the delays last March in the creation of “red zones” in two northern municipalities of the country, while the epidemic exploded.

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The magistrate and her team, who arrived at the prime minister’s office early in the morning in front of the journalists’ cameras, were also to hear the ministers of health, Roberto Speranza, and of the interior, Luciana Lamorgese. The prosecution of Bergamo, a martyr city in the Lombardy region and epicenter of the epidemic that struck Italy from the beginning of February to May and killed more than 34,000 people, is conducting several separate investigations linked to this tragedy.

Rejection of responsibilities

One of them has hit the headlines in recent days in Italy. It concerns the delays in the creation of a “red zone” comprising two municipalities in this department, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, particularly affected by the Covid-19. The central government and the leaders of Lombardy reject the responsibility for this delay, which had a dramatic impact with the saturation of the health system, the increase in mortality and the spread of the new coronavirus in this region.

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Wednesday evening, Giuseppe Conte had assured that he “would conscientiously report” to the prosecutor “of all the facts to his knowledge”, saying “not at all worried”. “All inquiries are welcome,” he said. As part of this investigation, Silvio Brusaferro, president of the Italian Higher Institute of Health (ISS), who advised the government in the management of the crisis, was heard on Wednesday evening by the magistrates of Bergamo, but nothing n filtered on this hearing.

Responsible government?

The President of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana, and his regional health official, Giulio Gallera, were also heard at the end of May, saying that the decision to establish the “red zone” was up to the government in Rome. For the Minister of Regional Affairs, Francesco Boccia, the region could have established these same “red zones” by itself, the law authorizing it.

The whole question concerns who, from the central government or from Lombardy, should have taken this decision between March 3 and 9. The first “red zones” were established at the end of February by decision of the Italian government and concerned a dozen municipalities in Lombardy, notably Codogno, the city of “patient number one”. In early March, the epidemic continued to spread, with two larger outbreaks, in the two municipalities of Nembro and Alzano, in the department of Bergamo.

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The Technical and Scientific Committee (CTS), which advises the government of Giuseppe Conte, then proposed to impose a “red zone” there, judging that the situation “worsened throughout Lombardy”, while the ISS advocated in turn, the next day, the same measure in these two municipalities. According to Corriere, Giuseppe Conte once again met these experts on March 6, to finally choose to make the whole country a “red zone”, by a decree signed on March 7 and entered into force two days later.

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