ROME — Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been questioned by prosecutors investigating how the authorities handled the coronavirus pandemic.
The investigation is focused on the alleged failure to promptly seal off two towns in Lombardy — Alzano Lombardo and Nembro — where a major coronavirus outbreak was identified.
The northern region of Lombardy has been ground zero for Italy, with about 16,000 deaths so far during the pandemic, almost half of the nation’s total.
Locals say that almost every family in the towns is grieving a lost relative. Francesco Zambonelli, who lost his mother, father and aunt during the pandemic, told POLITICO it was a “massacre.”
Conte told Italian media he was “not worried” about the probe and had followed “conscience and science.”
A team of four prosecutors from Bergamo questioned Conte on at his Palazzo Chigi offices in Rome for about three hours.
Relatives of virus victims protested this week in Bergamo, the capital of the province, filing 50 criminal complaints and demanding an investigation to bring those responsible to justice.
Stefano Fusco, the founder of a group for relatives of victims in Bergamo, said: “Are there political responsibilities? Absolutely, yes.”
“There were 15 days of absolute inertia that allowed the outbreak in the mid-Seriana Valley to spread freely and in an uncontrolled way, becoming a fire of devastating proportions.”
Relatives of the deceased say they suspect that business lobbies applied pressure to the government to keep the commercially important area, which contains more than 300 companies, open. “Police were all ready to close down the villages as a red zone, but the order never came,” said Fusco.
The Lombardy regional government has blamed Rome for the alleged failure to promptly extend the virus containment area, known as the red zone, in late February.
The government’s scientific and technical committee had suggested that the area be included in the red zone after the number of coronavirus infections surged to 80 in early March.
But the final decision to isolate the area was delayed, until the entire region of Lombardy, and then Italy as a whole, went into lockdown on March 10.
Conte has insisted that the Lombardy government had the power to close the area, as other regions did.
A team of four prosecutors from Bergamo questioned Conte on Friday at his Palazzo Chigi offices in Rome for about three hours. Conte is not believed to be a suspect.
They were later set to question the health and interior ministers, Roberto Speranza and Luciana Lamorgese.