Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi lays a flower wreath during an activity to mark the first National Day of Remembrance for COVID-19 victims in Bergamo, Italy, March 18, 2021. Italy on Thursday marked the first National Day of Remembrance for COVID-19 victims. According to the Health Ministry's data updated to Wednesday, Italy's death toll reached 103,432. Overall, it counts more than 3.2 million coronavirus cases, which included the deaths, plus over 2.6 million recoveries, and over 539,000 active infections. (Pool via Xinhua)
ROME, March 18 (Xinhua) -- Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi chose the northern Bergamo city on Thursday to mark the first National Day of Remembrance for COVID-19 victims, the number of which has so far exceeded 103,000 in the country.
"This place is the symbol of the pain of an entire nation," he said at a ceremony in a park, renamed the Wood of Remembrance, near the city's main hospital. "We cannot hug each other today, yet this is when we must all feel closer than ever."
The province of Bergamo in the wealthy Lombardy region was Italy's (and Europe's) first large pandemic hotspot last year between late February and early March.
The city of around 120,000 inhabitants counted at least 670 victims, and its province, with a population of 1.1 million, tallied some 6,000 fatalities, mayor Giorgio Gori said at the ceremony.
Here is where long columns of army vehicles were seen at night carrying away hundreds of coffins from Bergamo's engulfed crematorium to various cemeteries around the region. That occurred on March 18, 2020, and Italian authorities chose this date to mourn the victims.
"There is no one in this city who has not had a family member or acquaintance affected by the virus," Draghi recalled, before laying a wreath at the cemetery.
Yet, he highlighted Bergamo's ability "to react and turn its grief into a desire for regeneration."
"Its example is precious to all Italians who I am sure cannot wait to hold their head up again... and release the energies that have made this country wonderful."
"I am here... to commit myself to rebuild without forgetting, along with you all," Draghi said.
As the prime minister led the official celebration in Bergamo, national flags in public buildings were lowered at half-mast across the country in mourning.
According to the Health Ministry's data updated to Wednesday, Italy's death toll reached 103,432. Overall, it counts more than 3.2 million coronavirus cases, which included the deaths, plus over 2.6 million recoveries, and over 539,000 active infections.
After being the first country in Europe to be overwhelmed by the pandemic last year, and having suffered a serious second wave after summer, Italy was now putting great efforts into avoiding a full third wave, which could endanger the ongoing vaccination campaign.
Thus, after putting more than half of the country back into a semi-lockdown from March 15 to April 6, Draghi on Thursday restated the pledge to boost vaccination efforts, despite a recent debate around the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Italian health authorities have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab (along with many other EU countries) as a precautionary measure earlier this week, pending a decision from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
"Whatever its (EMA) decision, the vaccination campaign will go on with the same intensity and goals," Draghi stressed. "An increase in some vaccine supplies will help offset the delays from other drug companies."
So far, Italy has administered 7.2 million vaccine doses, and 2.2 million people have received both shots of the vaccines. Enditem