MILAN (AP) — Italian prosecutors have closed a COVID-19 investigation that accuses officials, including a former premier and a regional governor, of wrongdoing for failing to extend a lockdown zone in the early days of the pandemic to the northern city of Bergamo and adjacent industrial valleys.
“Our aim was to reconstruct what happened and give a response to the population of Bergamo and surroundings," prosecutor Antonio Chiappani told Radio 24 on Thursday.
The case now goes to a magistrate in Bergamo to decide whether to indict more than a dozen suspects identified by prosecutors, including then Premier Giuseppe Conte, former Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Lombardy regional Gov. Atillo Fontana.
Conte said in a statement after the investigation was formally closed Wednesday that he was “calm in the face of the country and Italian citizens, having operated with the maximum commitment …. during one of the most difficult moments experienced in our republic.’’
Speranza likewise said that he was “serene and sure to have always acted with discipline and honor in the interest of the country."
Fontana’s lawyer said that he doesn't expect his client to be among those indicted, adding that "Fontana was always questioned as an interested party," not as a suspect.
The investigation alleges errors were made in not extending a "red zone," initially imposed on a limited number of towns in the neighboring Lombardy and Veneto regions, to Bergamo as the number of deaths there skyrocketed.
The investigation alleges that more than 4,000 deaths could have been prevented if the lockdown had been extended on Feb. 27, 2020, as Bergamo province became Italy’s COVID-19 hot spot. The city’s morgue was so overwhelmed that the army had to send in trucks to bring coffins to other morgues for cremation.
Italy became the first county outside Asia to confirm cases of COVID-19 on Feb. 21, 2020, and the first death in another region hours later.
The first “red zones” were imposed three days later around 10 towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto, and extended to all of Lombardy and 14 other provinces in the north on March 8. Conte put the entire country on lockdown two days later.
Italy has recorded more than 188,000 COVID-19 deaths.