Coronavirus: Army drafted in to help move corpses from ‘Italy’s Wuhan’

‘It makes you realise that things you thought were far away can really happen to you’, says one resident

Federica Marsi
Thursday 19 March 2020 14:18 GMT
Coronavirus: Army drafted in to help move corpses from 'Italy's Wuhan'

As Italy hit its highest single-day death toll, the army was brought into the country’s worst affected city to remove dozens of coffins piling up in churches or filling morgues beyond capacity.

A column of military vehicles was seen snaking through the streets of northern city of Bergamo on Wednesday evening to collect around 60 coffins to be transferred to central Italy for cremation.

Bergamo, which now holds a grim record as “Italy’s Wuhan,” has seen a peak of 300 deaths per week due to coronavirus – a rate 14 times higher compared to last year.

The extent of the tragedy was made apparent in the obituary section of L’Eco di Bergamo, where the list of names now takes up the best part of the local newspaper.

Residents responded to the ghastly sight of army vehicles carrying coffins away with sorrow and shock.

“Seeing the street behind your house invaded by army vehicles is a sight that is bound to have an effect on you,” Lucia Ferrante, a resident of Bergamo, told The Independent. “It’s something that makes you realise that things you thought were far away can really happen to you.”

Ferrante, a social worker, said Bergamo had plunged into total silence, broken regularly only by the ambulance siren. On her way to work – which she is allowed to undertake as it falls into a list of essential services – she sees three or four hearses parked at the cemetery at any given day.

Under the country’s strict lockdown, families have been unable to see their loved ones or hold their funerals. A decree issued on March 8 effectively introduced measures unprecedented in peacetime, including the suspension of funerals and all religious ceremonies.

At the supermarket, long queues form as residents are requested to keep a safety distance of one metre. Ferrante, who lives 10 minutes cycling away from her parents, said she regularly drops off food supplies to her parents through their ground-floor balcony, but hasn’t been able to hug them in weeks.

“Today is Father’s Day and I cannot kiss my dad,” she said. “These situations make you appreciate the common gestures we used to give for granted.”

Italy saw its bleakest day yet in the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday as 475 people died in 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 2,978.

The reasons that led the province of 1.2 million people to become the epicentre in the spread of Covid-19 have not yet been ascertained. Contagions took off between February 29 and March 3, days after a football match in San Siro that saw the local team of AlbinoGandino play Codogno, where the virus was first recorded.

Hospitals have also come under fire for failing to contain the spread. Two patients tested positive to coronavirus on February 23 in Alzano Lombardo, just over five miles from Bergamo. According to some accounts, at least one of them went to the emergency room, which was briefly closed with no intervention being undertaken before it reopened. Doctors, nurses and even the director of the hospital later tested positive to the virus.

The government has also come under fire for failing to swiftly act to contain the virus and enforce a lockdown similar to that of Codogno and its neighbouring towns in the aftermath of the first confirmed case on February 20.

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