Italy PM ‘totally calm’ after 3-hour grilling over pandemic response

Lead prosecutor Maria Cristina Rota talks with reporters after investigating Conte. (AP pic)

ROME: Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he gave prosecutors a full account of how he handled the coronavirus pandemic that devastated Italy, adding he did not fear a judicial probe would be opened.

“I explained everything to prosecutors. I am totally calm,” Conte said in an interview published Saturday after he was grilled for about three hours on Friday over his handling of the emergency.

“I detailed all the stages in these terrible days during which we fought an invisible enemy. I have nothing to fear,” the premier told La Stampa newspaper.

Conte said he believes he “acted based on science and conscience,” adding: “I have the serenity of one who always carried out each step with the scientific technical committee offering advice.”

“I am not expecting to receive a notice of an opening of a judicial investigation. I have never feared one,” he added.

The epidemic has killed more than 34,000 people in Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, mostly in the nation’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 northern 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.

“As I have already told investigating magistrates, the chronology of events is very clear,” the premier told La Stampa.

“In light of the epidemiological framework available to us during the first week of March, it would have made no sense to close only the towns of Alzano and Nembro,” he said.

“Our problem at that moment already was to study drastic and immediate solutions for all of Italy. And that’s what we did.”

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