Sicily’s health chief resigned on Tuesday after being targeted in an investigation over the alleged falsifying of Covid-19 figures to avoid a strict lockdown.
According to prosecutors, who put a number of people under house arrest and the Sicilian health chief, Ruggero Razza, under investigation, health authorities in Sicily allegedly altered the number of new Covid cases and the number of Covid tests as part of a “grievous political design” to avoid the region being classed as a high-risk red zone and put on hard lockdown.
Early in October, Italy introduced a three-tiered, coloured system to combat the spread of the virus. Regions are divided into three zones: red for the highest risk, then orange and yellow. In the red zones, residents can only leave home for work, health reasons, essential shopping, or emergencies.
In the orange and yellow zones, slightly less severe restrictions have been introduced. Italy’s regional governments send daily data to Rome on infection rates and deaths, which is used to decide the intensity of the restrictions.
According to investigators, reports of deaths and new cases in the region were spread out over time to paint a rosier picture than was actually the case.
Razza, who has denied wrongdoing but decided to step down to avoid further controversy, was caught on wiretap discussing numbers of deaths with a local health official, and said: “Let’s spread them around a bit”, AFP has reported.
“I would like to reiterate that in Sicily, the epidemic has always been carefully monitored,” Razza said. “We did not need to hide the number of infected people or lower the epidemiological impact because we have ourselves often anticipated the decisions of Rome and adopted stricter measures.”
Last November, Italy’s national health inspectors were dispatched to investigate whether there was a concerted attempt in Sicily to avoid going into the high-contagion-risk red zone by inflating the availability of ICU beds.
Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, said in a statement that the Sicilian capital would join as a civil plaintiff in any legal action, given the impact coronavirus measures have had in the city.