Italy pays tribute to health workers as nation marks covid-19 anniversary

Italy marks first national day in honour of healthcare workers.

Italian president Sergio Mattarella has led tributes to Italy’s doctors, nurses and healthcare workers as the nation marks one year since covid-19 was detected in the northern town of Codogno.

The newly-established national day coincides with the detection of coronavirus in “Patient 1” when doctors broke protocol by performing a covid test on a 38-year-old man, after he presented with a high fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Until then covid tests were only carried out on people who had been in China, where the virus was raging in Wuhan.

The doctors’ suspicions proved right, triggering a national emergency and leading to Codogno being locked down in what would become the first "red zone" or coronavirus hotspot in Europe.

Since then some 95,000 people have died with covid-19 in Italy, the second highest death toll in Europe after the UK.

326 doctors have died in Italy since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to the national doctors' guilds federation FNOMCEO.

Ahead of commemorative events in Codogno, President Mattarella expressed his gratitude for "the professionalism and self-denial" of healthcare workers whose continued efforts have been key in stopping the epidemic from "precipitating into an irreversible catastrophe.”

The president also paid tribute to Italy's national healthcare system which "despite its many difficulties" has proven to be an institution "to preserve and to invest in, in order to protect the entire community."

The president’s words were echoed by Pope Francis who compared the dedication of healthcare workers to “a vaccine against individualism and selfishness,'' a dedication which "demonstrates the most authentic desire that dwells in the heart of man — be near to those who have the most need and give of oneself for them."