The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, is to be questioned as part of an investigation driven by relatives of coronavirus victims into alleged errors made by authorities at the beginning of the pandemic.
Prosecutors in Bergamo, the Lombardy province worst hit by the virus, will also question the health minister, Roberto Speranza and the interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, over the failure by authorities to quarantine the towns of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro after outbreaks occurred there.
The move came after grieving families of Covid-19 victims on Wednesday submitted the first 50 complaints to Bergamo prosecutors as they pushed for an investigation into possible criminal negligence by authorities.
The files were brought together by members of NOI Denunceremo (we will denounce), a Facebook group set up in April.
“We haven’t identified culprits in the files but the other day we spoke to the prosecutor and explained that our main objective is to find out the truth,” Luca Fusco, the president of NOI Denunceremo, said. “We’re not interested in convictions, we just want to understand what happened. If we understand what happened we can change a system that made mistakes.”
Bergamo has so far registered more than 13,600 coronavirus infections and more than 3,000 deaths, according to official figures. However, Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo city, told reporters on Tuesday that the death toll across the province was probably double the official number.
Meanwhile, tests carried out on 9,965 people in the province between 23 April and 3 June showed 57% had Covid-19 antibodies, local health authorities said on Monday.
Relatives of the deceased believe authorities made serious errors, especially at the beginning of the outbreak, such as only briefly closing a hospital in the town of Alzano Lombardo after the first coronavirus infection was detected there on 23 February and failing to quarantine the town and the nearby Nembro.
Ten towns in the Lombardy province of Lodi went into lockdown on 21 February, after Italy’s first locally transmitted case was confirmed, but Bergamo was only quarantined with the rest of the Lombardy region on 8 March.
The families are also asking prosecutors to investigate the alleged failure by authorities to sufficiently inform people of the risk of infection, the lack of personal protective equipment in healthcare facilities and the lack of effective and timely medical assistance.
Bergamo prosecutors also recently questioned Lombardy’s regional head, Attilio Fontana, and the region’s health councillor, Giulio Gallera.
NOI Denunceremo was set up initially by Fusco as a platform for relatives to share their stories, and has since attracted more than 56,000 members. The page inspired families of Covid-19 victims in France to replicate the initiative with the website, plaintecovid.fr.
In a move triggered by complaints from the public, Remy Heitz, the chief prosecutor in Paris, said on Tuesday he had opened an investigation into the French government’s handling of the pandemic, with possible charges including “involuntary homicide” and “endangering life”.
Fusco said he had been contacted by relatives of coronavirus victims in Spain and the US following a story by the Hlcarpenter.com in April.
The testimonies that have been gathering on the NOI Denunceremo page share similarities such as the virus being mistaken for ordinary flu and people at home suffering from a fever advised to take paracetamol. Many people have lost both of their parents as a result of Covid-19.
“My parents died within a few days of each other,” said Diego Federici, 35. “I hope today is the first step towards getting justice for them. This virus didn’t only impact elderly people with health problems, but also people who were otherwise healthy, like my parents. We did not create this group to make a profit, only to make sure our relatives get the justice they deserve.”
If prosecutors find any wrongdoing then judiciary authorities will be notified, with a trial beginning after that.
“We expect all the criminal complaints submitted by relatives to be investigated and for responsibility to be identified,” said Consuelo Locati, a lawyer for NOI Denunceremo.