MILAN (AP) — A special Italian court has shut down a probe into whether the country’s former premier and former health minister caused unnecessary deaths by failing to extend a lockdown zone in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Court of Ministers in Brescia threw out the case against ex-Premier Giuseppe Conte and ex-Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Wednesday.
The investigation alleged errors were made in not extending a “red zone,” initially imposed on a limited number of towns in northern Italy’s Lombardy and Veneto regions, to neighboring Bergamo as the number of deaths there skyrocketed.
Both officials have said they acted according to scientific knowledge and expert opinion available at the time.
Conte told RAI state TV that the court’s decision “comforts me.”
“We were facing a virus that by then was galloping, and within a few days we made the decision to close other regions in a very strict way,’’ Conte said, adding that the court’s decision also made clear that the government made a reasonable call given the data available.
A court in Bergamo must still decide wither to indict more than a dozen other people. The Court of Ministers handles cases involving Italian Cabinet members.
The three-year-long probe alleges that more than 4,000 deaths could have been prevented if the lockdown had been extended on Feb. 27, 2020, as Bergamo province became Italy’s COVID-19 hot spot.
The city’s morgue was so overwhelmed that the army had to send in trucks to bring coffins to other morgues for cremation.
On Feb. 21, 2020, Italy became the first country outside Asia to confirm a case of COVID-19.
The first “red zones” were imposed three days later around 10 towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto, and extended to all of Lombardy and 14 other provinces in the north on March 8. Conte put the entire country on lockdown two days later.
Italy recorded 188,322 official COVID-19 deaths.