Interview. In Lombardy, where over 16,000 people died of COVID-19, a group of Bergamo citizens have filed 42 criminal complaints against the unknown individuals who fatally failed to act against the outbreak.

People of Bergamo seek justice for COVID-19 mismanagement

“Noi denunceremo” (“We will denounce”) is the name of a committee created on Facebook by people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. And since Wednesday, their name is also a promise kept: a delegation has gone to the prosecutor in Bergamo to present 42 criminal complaints against those responsible for one of the world’s most devastating coronavirus outbreaks.

“The committee asks to identify the responsibilities of those who did not declare a red zone, who did not close the hospital in Alzano and instead approved that ill-fated resolution of the Lombardy Region of March 23, which prevented GPs from visiting COVID-19 patients at home,” explains Consuelo Locati, lawyer and legal coordinator of the committee, who lost his own father to COVID-19.

“Because of that measure, many patients arrived at the hospital in desperate condition, resulting in the collapse of the hospitals. But the question is more general: the Lombardy region has placed a lot of emphasis on curative medicine, and not on prevention. There was no coordination between local health care and general practitioners. We ask to identify those responsible for this mismanagement.”

Who was supposed to declare the red zone and close the hospital? 

There is a tangle of overlapping regulations. But at the moment when Gallera and Fontana became aware that the government would not establish a red zone, they could have intervened. But the rules also call the actions of the mayors into question. As far as the closure of the hospital in Alzano is concerned, the management of the hospital will have to explain.

Why was there so much inertia? 

The economic pressure was overwhelming. The president of Confindustria Lombardia, Marco Bonometti, repeatedly made clear that business owners were opposed to the establishment of the red zone. The people who are presenting this complaint today feel that public health, protected by Article 32 of the Constitution, has been damaged in order to protect the economic interest of the Confindustria.

Was the problem of the abandonment of territorial healthcare being felt even before the pandemic? 

It was being felt, most of all because in order to book a consultation through the public health service, one had to wait months or years, while through the private channel it would only take a few days. During the pandemic, we paid a high price for the shortage of general practitioners: with so many patients, they were unable to follow the condition of the patients anyway.

And also because they had no protective equipment. 

However, there was an anti-pandemic plan since 2006 that required the region to build up sufficient stocks of diagnostic kits and masks. But it was never implemented in Lombardy. On the contrary, in 2019 the region decided to give economic incentives to managers who were reducing stocks of medical devices: this is what the Lombardy healthcare system is like. And today, citizens have to pay out of their own pocket for serological tests, and for the first compulsory swab in case of a positive finding.

Is the judiciary willing to include your complaints in the main investigation? 

We have spoken with the prosecutor of Bergamo, Maria Cristina Rota, and we have found openness and a willingness to cooperate. At the end of June, we will file another hundred complaints or so. There is willingness, also because people are only asking for the judicial authority to investigate in order to clarify matters. They are people who have seen their loved ones die at home without being able to do anything. In the worst period, many patients were not hospitalized because there was no room. You only have to read the patients’ medical records to understand that in many cases, doctors had to choose who to save and who not to save. But these people are seeking the truth, not vengeance.

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