On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a state of public health emergency of international importance. “It is not possible to imagine how big this emergency will be”, said WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recommending “non-binding but practically and politically significant measures that may concern travel, trade, quarantine, screening, care”. The Wuhan virus, now out of China’s borders, had become a worrying epidemic. Precisely in those hours in Italy the first two cases of contagion from the new coronavirus were confirmed: they were two Chinese tourists hospitalized at the Lazzaro Spallanzani Institute in Rome in isolation.
Roberto Speranza, Minister of Health of the Conte II government, tried to reassure this way: “We want to give a message of absolute serenity on the new coronavirus. The National Health Service is very strong, we have chosen from the beginning to have a level of attention that is the highest in Europe “. Was it really so? In fact, shortly afterwards the hospitals in northern Italy were overwhelmed by the boom in hospitalizations of patients with acute interstitial pneumonia from Covid-19, Italian doctors and nurses did not have enough masks, gloves and basic aprons to keep themselves safe, and politicians and health care executives struggled with an acute lack of ventilators for mechanical breathing of oxygen-starved patients.
Italy absent from EU meetings for the first response to the covid
Procedures and protocols for the containment of the coronavirus were discussed on January 31, 2020 in Luxembourg, at a meeting of the European Health Security Committee organized by the European Commission. A decisive summit for the definition at community level of a first response to Covid-19 and the management of the first phases of the fight against the virus, urgently convened after the declaration of “public emergency of international importance” pronounced the day before by the ‘WHO. Italy should have participated with a representative of the Ministry of Health but was not present, the only EU member state to desert.
“A sensational absence”, tells us on the phone Robert Lingard, communications manager of the Committee of the relatives of the victims of the Val Seriana covid, in the province of Bergamo, the epicenter of the first wave. The relatives of the victims ask for justice, they argue that what happened in Italy and particularly in Lombardy was not a fatality and for this reason they have already filed several complaints with the prosecutor, with documentary evidence, to have at least compensation. They are facing a civil case against the Lombardy region, the Ministry of Health and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. And “this sensational absence” of our country emerges today from the documents held by their lawyers.
Dr. Lingard, what was discussed at that meeting of 31 January 2020 organized by the European Commission in Luxembourg?
“In addition to all the EU member states, with Italy the only country absent as this document demonstrates, at the meeting for the elaboration of common strategies for the containment of the coronavirus there were the experts of the ECDC, the European Control Center and prevention of infectious diseases. It was done just the day after the WHO declared a public emergency. There was talk of the definition of a positive suspected case and of laboratories for diagnostic tests, of personal protective equipment and of the verification of adequate storage of these instruments by individual countries in the event of a pandemic There was also talk of the need for Member States to share all available information to allow the European Union to better cope with the emergency by limiting the chain of transmission of the virus. And there were also representatives of EMA, the European Medicines Agency: for the first time, an allocation of 10 million euros was discussed for an ev the actual Covid-19 vaccine “.
And Italy, with a “level of attention that is the highest in Europe” (Speranza dixit), was inexplicably absent …
“A sensational absence, but in reality our country was not even present at a similar meeting, also organized by the European Committee for Health Security, on January 17 (here the document, ed). Francesco Maraglino, head of prevention, should have participated of communicable diseases and international prophylaxis of the Ministry of Health. On that occasion there was also talk of how to keep the virus out of the European Union through the procedures for controlling flights arriving from China with targeted measures at European level. The official excuse was that of not having read the email invitation to the meeting … “.
The investigation for culpable epidemic
Any errors and omissions in the first wave at the state and regional level will be verified by the judiciary. The Bergamo prosecutor’s office is investigating for culpable epidemic what happened in Val Seriana last March, as we have explained here. It will be verified not only whether the old national pandemic plan – dating back to 2006 – which organizes the country’s response to an emergency such as the covid has been updated, but also whether it has been activated and applied starting from 5 January 2020, date on which the World Health Organization has sounded worldwide the alarm for an unknown pneumonia.
Where are the investigations?
“In addition to Ranieri Guerra, current deputy director of the World Health Organization under investigation in Bergamo for false statements to prosecutors regarding the failure to update the 2006 pandemic plan, there are five other suspects: they are health managers of the Lombardy region. In June the prosecutor has asked for an extension of six months for the investigations. And we are awaiting the report of Professor Andrea Crisanti on what happened in Bergamo, an expert opinion necessary to understand exactly when there were the first covid cases through the analysis of the files clinics, to determine how much the failure to close the Val Seriana has affected the increase in positive cases and to clarify the implementation and failure to update the pandemic plan “.
And at what point is the civil suit brought by about 500 relatives of the victims to ask for compensation from the Lombardy region, the Ministry of Health and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers?
“It began on July 8 with the first hearing, the second will be next March. We have requested individual compensation for each family member, according to the degree of kinship with the victim. The total sum requested is 200 million euros”.