Italy launches COVID inquiry over opposition protest

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 12:54 PM

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s parliament approved on Wednesday the creation of an official inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, angering opposition parties who were in power at the time and fear it will become a political witch hunt.

The lower house, now dominated by right-wing parties from Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s ruling coalition, approved the bill to set up the inquiry by vote of 132 to 86.

The rightist groups were fierce critics of lockdowns and restrictions introduced by the centre-left administration of then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to stem infections as Italy became the first Western nation to face the health emergency in 2020.

“This law is a clown show put on by cowards, an unworthy act that tramples on the duties and functions of this house and of the entire parliament… for mere propaganda purposes,” said Angela Raffa, a lawmaker with the opposition 5-Star Movement led by Conte.

The panel will include members from all political parties in both houses of parliament. To carry out its investigation, it will be allowed to acquire relevant documents and hold hearings.

Its tasks will include assessing the readiness and effectiveness of measures put in place before the virus struck, also with an eye to dealing with any future pandemic, according to the law bill seen by Reuters.

The World Health Organization says more than 195,000 people died of COVID-19 in Italy, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain, which is currently holding a public inquiry into its own, much-criticised handling of the pandemic.

Lawmakers from Meloni’s coalition have argued that an array of topics need closer scrutiny from parliament, including why Italy had not updated a pandemic plan drawn up in 2006.

Choices made by Conte and his health minister Roberto Speranza will likely be the focus of the panel’s investigation, whose results are expected to be presented by the end of the legislature in 2027.

A legal case against Conte and Speranza for allegedly mishandling the start of the crisis was dropped last year in the northern city of Bergamo, which was at the epicentre of the initial Italian outbreak.

“I have no fears about the investigation that will be carried out,” Conte told the house after the vote to launch the inquiry.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Bill Berkrot)