Italian prosecutors question PM Conte over Covid-19 response

File picture of Italian PM Giuseppe Conte leaving the Senate in Rome on May 20, 2020.
File picture of Italian PM Giuseppe Conte leaving the Senate in Rome on May 20, 2020. © Remo Casilli, Reuters

Prosecutors questioned Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for about three hours on Friday over his handling of the coronavirus emergency, his office confirmed.

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Prosecutors from Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region worst hit by the virus, have launched an investigation into why two cities were not designated so-called "red zones" earlier on in the crisis. 

The epidemic has killed over 34,000 in Italy, one of the hardest hit countries in the world, mostly in the country's north. 

Chief prosecutor Maria Cristina Rota and her team are trying to find out why a lockdown was not enforced early in the health emergency around the towns of Nembro and Alzano in the province of Bergamo. 

Health experts say had the area been quarantined, many lives would have been saved.  

The team has already met with senior officials in Lombardy, who say it was up to Rome to decide whether certain areas should be shut.  

Conte has countered that regions had full discretion to close certain areas where the virus had begun to flare in late February and early March. 

"If Lombardy had wanted to, it could have made Alzano and Nembro red zones," he has said.  

The first town in Italy to be quarantined was Codogno, about an hour south of Nembro and Alzano, on February 21. 

Another nine towns around Codogno were subsequently locked down before the entire region of Lombardy and 14 provinces in neighbouring regions of Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna were quarantined on March 8. 

Conte imposed a nationwide quarantine on March 10. 

On Thursday, Conte said he welcomed the Bergamo investigation and was "not at all worried".

"I will conscientiously set out all the facts of which I have knowledge," he said. 

"All investigations are welcome. The citizens have the right to know and we have the right to reply." 

Italy's health minister Roberto Speranza and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese were also heard on Friday by Bergamo prosecutors. 

Separate from the investigation led by Rota, about 50 family members of coronavirus victims in the province of Bergamo filed complaints on Wednesday, the first such legal group action in Italy, over the handling of the crisis.

(AFP)

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