A pedestrian walks past a cleaning products store, shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Naples, Italy, April 14, 2020. (Gianni Cipriano/The New York Times)
MILAN — As the infection curve in Italy flattens and the government moves gingerly toward reopening the country, more Italians, fueled by growing anger over thousands of deaths and what they see as health officials’ failures in handing the crisis, are seeking to hold someone accountable.
Some analysts foresee a litigious phase as victims’ families rally in anger in Facebook groups and prosecutors weigh manslaughter charges over deaths at some nursing homes. Italy’s coronavirus epidemic was among the world’s deadliest, with an official toll of more than 25,000. And the grievances are emerging as the government wrestles with lifting the lockdown, what it calls Phase 2.
“Phase 3 is going to be the criminalization of the contagion,” journalist Nicola Mirenzi wrote on the news website Linkiesta. “The pandemic is going to turn into a big collective trial.”
Prosecutors have begun investigating whether errors by authorities had contributed to or caused Italy’s deadliest clusters. Liberal members of Parliament have accused the conservative government in the Lombardy region, where the country’s outbreak first appeared, of exacerbating the contagion. About 45,000 relatives of coronavirus victims have joined “NOI Denunceremo” (“We Will Denounce You”), a Facebook group for people who believe that not enough was done to save their relatives.
Lawyers have begun advertising their services to mourning families in response to allegations of mistakes committed by health care workers in treating coronavirus patients. The president of Italy’s main doctors’ association has denounced the marketing campaigns.
But many Italians seek to hold authorities accountable for what they call negligence and the lack of timely treatment many said they had witnessed.
Laura Capelli, a 48-year-old office worker, said doctors in a town near Bergamo, the area of Italy hit the hardest by the coronavirus, had told her they had decided to sedate her uncle because he kept clawing at the mask on his face. He died soon after.
But when another doctor at the Ponte San Pietro Hospital told her that the choice to sedate her uncle had been motivated by a need to make room for younger patients, Capelli joined NOI Denunceremo.
“I have the impression they are trying to silence everything,” Capelli said Thursday. “Now it’s a moment of common pain, but for the future, I want justice.”
She added that, at this point, she would not know whom to sue.
Diego Federici, 35, said that his mother had the coronavirus and died March 25 after doctors in a hospital in Treviglio, near Milan, decided not to intubate her. His father, who was never admitted to an intensive care unit, had died four days earlier.
Federici said he had joined the NOI Denunceremo Facebook group, adding that he could not accept that two healthy people had died within four days.
“Nobody is going to give me my parents back,” he said, “but if someone did something wrong, they should pay for it.”
Luca Fusco, the founder of the Facebook group, initially posted his email address for members to send their stories anonymously, but dozens of members soon started directly publishing their testimonies every day. The authors do not directly accuse health care workers of malfeasance.
As the painful stories of the epidemic piled up on Facebook, judiciary authorities began searching for someone to blame. Prosecutors started an investigation into what they call an “involuntary epidemic” at a hospital in Alzano, near Bergamo, where the virus spread through the medical wards.
Maria Cristina Rota, Bergamo’s prosecutor, told the news agency Ansa that a pool of prosecutors would “take care of all the investigations about the epidemic in the Bergamo area.”
They are also considering manslaughter charges against directors of retirement homes where hundreds of residents died and where the full death toll may have been hidden.
Italians are not the only ones seeking some form of accountability for the pandemic. In the United States, the state of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government Tuesday, saying its response to the outbreak that emerged in the city of Wuhan had led to devastating economic losses in the state.
A ski resort hotel in the Dolomites also presented a subpoena in an Italian court seeking compensation from China’s Health Ministry for loss of business after the outbreak, Marco Vignola, the lawyer for the hotel, told news outlets.
“The early and sudden closure led to disastrous consequences, including the dismissal of all staff and the cancellation of contracts with suppliers,” the lawyer was quoted as saying.
On April 15, lawmakers from the governing Democratic Party blamed Lombardy’s conservative government for the high number of deaths in the region’s retirement homes. Lia Quartapelle, a lawmaker with the center-left party, accused authorities there of having “worsened the contagion.”
Even as frustration grows, Italy is still mourning its losses and facing an uncertain future. Honoring health care workers is still foremost in most Italians’ minds, and not everyone supports the prosecutorial shift.
A 24-year-old nurse wrote a letter in the Repubblica newspaper in response to the criticism heaped on authorities in Lombardy. She said that in the months she spent in a COVID-19 ward, she had learned the value of sacrifice, waiting and forgiving.
“How can your position toward the future,” she asked, “be summarized by accusations?”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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