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The Italian government has been accused of misleading the World Health Organization in a self-assessment of its pandemic preparedness days before its COVID-19 outbreak, The Guardian’s Angela Giuffrida reported.
The allegation is part of a civil lawsuit filed against the government by families of coronavirus victims in Bergamo, a city in northern Italy that was heavily affected in the pandemic’s first wave last spring, according to Reuters.
Documents seen by The Guardian show that the country’s self-assessment report, filed to the WHO on February 4 last year, placed itself at “Level 5” — the maximum level of preparedness.
Italy is a signatory to the International Health Regulations treaty, which requires countries to file annual reports on their readiness for public-health emergencies.
When a country says it’s on Level 5 of preparedness, it means its health and national-emergency operations are “tested and updated regularly,” according to the self-assessment guidelines.
However, the country had not updated its pandemic-preparedness plan since 2006, The Guardian reported. A report on Italy’s pandemic response published by the WHO said the country reviewed the plan in 2017, but it merely reconfirmed the 2006 plan, the Associated Press reported.
Top members of the Italian government, including then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, have been questioned as part of the case, according to the newspaper. He told The Guardian last October he had done everything he could to mitigate the outbreak in trying circumstances.
Insider has contacted the office of Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who was in office during Conte’s tenure, and the country’s Ministry of Health for comment.
Italy was one of the first countries to be heavily affected by the spread of the virus, with reports last March of overwhelmed hospitals and, in Lombardy, a tragically expanded newspaper obituary section. The virus took hold with breathtaking speed, as Insider previously reported.
As of Tuesday, the country has seen just under 96,000 deaths with the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker. More than 2.8 million people in Italy have been infected.
The country is second only to the UK for the number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe.
Italy’s first reported case was on February 21, 2020 — less than two weeks after the country gave the WHO its “Level 5” assurance, according to The Guardian.
The retired army general Pier Paolo Lunelli, who has compiled an analysis of Italy’s self-assessment, said that most of the statements made in it were “groundless,” the paper reported.
“We lied to the Italian citizens claiming we were ready,” Lunelli wrote, according to The Guardian. “Worse, we tried to deceive even the WHO, the EU and the ‘provident’ European countries, declaring to have capabilities which, in the light of the facts, we did not have.”