A World Health Organization (WHO) official reportedly removed an important study on Italy’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ranieri Guerra, the Italian WHO official who removed the study, previously served as director-general for preventive health at the Italian health ministry from 2014-17.
The report – extremely critical of Italy’s haphazard early response to the pandemic – was supposed to be a blueprint for governments not yet hit by the coronavirus. Kuwait funded the report, written by WHO scientist Francesco Zambon and 10 colleagues across Europe. The Guardian:
Called An Unprecedented Challenge: Italy’s First Response to Covid-19, the document was published on the WHO website on 13 May before being taken down the next day, as first reported by the Guardian in August.
The 102-page report said Italy’s pandemic plan had not been updated since 2006 and that, due to being unprepared, the initial response from hospitals was “improvised, chaotic and creative”.
It took time for formal guidance to become available, the report added.
Guerra was directly responsible for updating Italy’s 2006 pandemic plan, which might explain why he didn’t want a study highlighting that fact out there for all the world to see.
The outdated plan is a crucial element in the preliminary investigations being carried out by prosecutors in Bergamo – the Lombardy province hardest hit during the first wave of the pandemic – into possible criminal negligence by authorities. Covid-related deaths in Italy surpassed 60,000 on Sunday, the highest toll in mainland Europe.
That number is surely much higher as Italy ran out of hospital beds early on in the pandemic and people were dying by the thousands in their homes.
The WHO is refusing to allow Zambon to testify at the hearings in Bergamo. Apparently, the organization would prefer to bury the news that it buried a potentially life-saving report for political reasons.
Zambon, who is based at the WHO’s office in Venice, has been summoned three times to speak to prosecutors but has been prevented from doing so by the WHO, which has insisted he and the other 10 researchers involved in producing the report should have immunity from testifying.