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Back in June, Bergamo prosecutors questioned the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, the health minister, Roberto Speranza, and other top officials about the delayed lockdown in two towns near Bergamo, where infections were reported in the early days of the outbreak.

Bergamo went on to become Italy’s Covid-19 centre, the first in the west, registering a 571% increase in excess deaths in March compared with the previous five-year average. The Bergamo probe, though, has now expanded beyond the lockdown issue to look into Italy’s preparedness going into the pandemic, investigators say.

A scandal over a spiked World Health Organization report into Italy’s response has revealed that the country’s influenza pandemic preparedness plan had not been updated since 2006. But Bergamo investigators are also looking into suggestions that the 2006 plan was never implemented once the outbreak hit, contributing to what the WHO called Italy’s “improvised, chaotic and creative” response to the thousands of sick who quickly overwhelmed Lombardy’s hospitals.

“What is emerging is that they never implemented what they had, which is more serious than the fact that it wasn’t updated,” a Bergamo investigator told AP.

Lombardy officials have defended their handling of the outbreak, while those responsible for updating the pandemic plan have said that the 2006 document was a set of guidelines for an influenza pandemic, not a coronavirus one.

Investigators, however, say there was plenty of crossover that could have been applied, such that the WHO recommended on 5 January that member states adopted guidance plans for influenza or virus pandemics in order to be prepared for what was then believed to be a still-contained outbreak in Wuhan, China.

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