ROME (AP) — Italy on Friday celebrated the second anniversary of a tragic milestone in the coronavirus pandemic: the day a convoy of army trucks had to ferry the dead out of hard-hit Bergamo as the the city’s cemeteries and crematoria were full.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi opened a press conference with the leaders of Spain, Portugal and Greece on Friday recalling that it was the official Day of Remembrance for the victims of COVID-19 in Italy. The Ministry of Health called on Italians to observe a minute of silence, President Sergio Mattarella paid homage to the dead and the city of Bergamo held a commemoration in its living memorial: a park of newly planted trees.
“We bow in memory of the victims,” Mattarella said in his tribute. “The entire international community shares the pain of the families.”
Italy has become the epicenter of the epidemic in Europe after the confirmation of the first locally transmitted case at the end of February 2020 in the Lombard city of Codogno. But the nearby city of Bergamo quickly became the hardest hit province in the hardest hit region. By the end of March 2020, Bergamo had recorded a 571% increase in deaths compared to the five-year monthly average, the largest increase in Italy and one of the largest localized increases in death rates in Europe.
Images of the army convoy winding through the roads of Bergamo on March 18, 2020 carrying coffins of the dead remain one of the most haunting and iconic images of the pandemic, the earliest evidence of the disproportionate toll that the first weeks of the epidemic have had on the city northeast of Milan.
The convoy’s anniversary comes as Italy begins to reduce its virus restrictions. Draghi and Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Thursday that many workplace vaccination requirements, quarantine rules and mask mandates would be relaxed in the coming weeks.
Italy, which has recorded more than 157,000 official COVID deaths, has fully vaccinated 89.7% of its population over the age of 12.
At the Bergamo memorial on Friday, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Roberto Fico, said the aim of the anniversary commemorations was to honor the dead but also to ensure that Italy was better prepared for the next pandemic.
“What’s important today is not just remembering the victims and being close to their loved ones, but learning 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 services Italian social.
“We need to do this to remember those who died actively,” he said.
Follow all AP pandemic stories at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.