ROME – Italy on Friday marked the second anniversary of a tragic milestone of the coronavirus pandemic: the day when a convoy of army trucks had to transport the dead out of hard-hit Bergamo because the city’s cemeteries and crematoria were full.
Premier Mario Draghi opened a press conference Friday with the leaders of Spain, Portugal and Greece by recalling that it was Italy's official Day of Remembrance for COVID-19 victims. The Health Ministry called for Italians to observe a minute of silence, President Sergio Mattarella paid tribute to the dead and the city of Bergamo held a commemoration at its living memorial: a park of newly planted trees.
“We bow down in memory of the victims,” Mattarella said in his tribute. “The entire international community shares in the pain of the families.”
Italy became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe after the first locally-transmitted case was confirmed in late February 2020 in the Lombard city of Codogno. But nearby Bergamo soon became the hardest-hit province in the hardest-hit region. By the end of March 2020, Bergamo had registered a 571% increase in deaths compared with the five-year monthly average, the biggest increase in Italy and one of the biggest localized increases in mortality rates in Europe.
Footage of the army convoy snaking its way through Bergamo’s roads on March 18, 2020 carrying caskets of the dead remains one of the most haunting and iconic images of the pandemic, early evidence of the outsized toll the first weeks of the outbreak had on the city northeast of Milan.
The anniversary of the convoy comes as Italy begins winding down its anti-virus restrictions. Draghi and Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced Thursday that many workplace vaccination requirements, quarantine rules and mask mandates would be eased in the coming weeks.
Italy, which has recorded more than 157,000 official COVID deaths, has fully vaccinated 89.7% of its over-12 population.
At the Bergamo memorial Friday, the president of the lower chamber of parliament, Roberto Fico, said the aim of the anniversary commemorations was to honor the dead but also to ensure that Italy is better prepared for the next pandemic.
“What is important today is not just remember the victims and be close to their relatives but to learn from what happened,” Fico told reporters. He called for greater investment in funding Italy’s network of general practitioners and local health care providers, improving telemedicine and rebuilding the public health system as a “pillar” of Italy’s social services.
“We have to do this to remember those who died in an active way,” he said.
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