Correspondent in Rome
The management of Italy in the initial phase of the pandemic is once again the center of controversy, with investigation even by the Justice. A document from the World Health Organization (WHO), published on its website on May 13, and then withdrawn the next day, very critically assessed the first phases in the management of the Covid-19 epidemic in Italy. Its title was clear: “An Unprecedented Challenge: Italy’s First Response.” This 102-page report, funded by the government of Kuwait with the aim of informing countries not yet affected by the epidemic, was written by a team of 11 European scientists from WHO, led by Italian Francesco Zambon, coordinator of the WHO headquarters in Venice.
“Italy was not prepared for such an influx of seriously ill patients; the initial reaction of the hospitals was improvised, chaotic and creative, ”reads the report, which was hastily pulled from the web within 24 hours of its publication. I would have given the order Ranieri Guerra, a doctor with a long history in health policy, being director general of prevention in Health in the Ministry of Health and currently vice president of the WHO for Europe, in addition to being a member of the scientific committee that advises the government on Covid. The Bergamo prosecutor’s office, the province of Lombardy most affected during the first stage of the coronavirus, is investigating the alleged negligence of the Italian authorities in the health management of the first wave of Covid-19.
The investigation was initiated to verify the possible participation of the Ministry of Health in the removal of the aforementioned report from the website of the World Health Organization (WHO). In that study it is stated that Italy was not prepared to deal with the emergency that officially exploded on February 21, because its 2006 plan against a possible pandemic was never updated. In 2017, the same plan of 2006 would have been confirmed, without having been reviewed by the director general of sanitary prevention of the Ministry of Health, which at that time was precisely Ranieri Guerra, currently with important responsibility in the WHO for Europe and member of the Italian technical committee on Covid.
“Conspiracy between the WHO and Rome”
The 11 scientists who produced the report on Italy’s shortcomings to tackle the epidemic accuse Ranieri Guerra of having pressed for the report to be removed from the WHO website. The Italian Francesco Zambon maintains that a month before its publication he sent a draft of the report to Guerra, who then shared it with the Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza. Furthermore, some emails sent in May 2020 to Francesco Zambon by Guerra and Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe who also wrote the introduction to the deleted document, seem to indicate that there was indeed a real agreement between WHO and the Ministry of Health to keep the relationship a secret.
Various Italian media have echoed this political-health issue. Also the “Financial Times” and yesterday “The Guardian”, which speaks of “conspiracy between the WHO and the Italian government to remove the report from the web.” To this last British newspaper, Francesco Zambon declared that he received pressure from Ranieri Guerra to modify some points of the report. Zambon makes serious accusations against Guerra, stating that he was threatened with dismissal because he objected to modifying the part in which he recalled that the Italian epidemiological plan had not been updated since 2006. “The report has highlighted the critical problems to which the Italian government faced in the management of the coronavirus, based on the old plan on the pandemics of 2006, which was only reconfirmed and not updated in 2017, “Zambon told The Guardian.
A mess with a very Italian flavor
The Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, denies any involvement in the matter and has called for a reform of the WHO so that there is greater transparency. Meanwhile, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, has stated that he is “against the immunities” of the WHO researchers. Finally, Zambon firmly reiterates that he contacted the Italian authorities to warn the seriousness of the situation: “I wrote desperately to all the high officials warning them of the danger,” Zambon told The Guardian. “The publication of the report had the potential to save lives and the responsibility of WHO was at stake, because a conflict of personal interest was considered more important than sharing the lessons learned from the country most affected at that time.”
The WHO has explained that the reason for the withdrawal of the report on its website was due to the presence of «inaccuracies and inconsistencies». The study authors replied with a question: “If there were errors, why didn’t they correct and later publish the study?”
The Italian Justice does not stop in its investigation on the responsibilities in the management of the pandemic. The Bergamo prosecutor’s office has interrogated Ranieri Guerra for five hours and also wants to hear to the 11 researchers who signed the report, but the WHO does not give them permission. Zambon was summoned by the Bergamo prosecutor’s office for December 10, but the WHO denied him authorization to appear.
Prosecutors are also using a report made after the first wave by a retired Army general, Pier Paolo Lunelli, who concluded that 10,000 deaths can be attributed to the lack of sufficient protocols against pandemics. Since the start of the Covid in Italy, 63,387 people have died, according to the data provided this Friday.
Without a doubt, one can imagine that still will be discussed a lot of this subject with health, political and judicial implications, a whole mess with a very Italian flavor.