Pope Francis and Italy’s president have marked a newly established annual day to honour doctors, nurses and other health care workers, exactly one year after the nation’s first known native case of Covid-19 emerged.
In a message to honour those caring for Covid-19 patients, Francis hailed the “generous involvement, at times heroic, of the profession lived as mission”.
On the evening of February 20 2020, a hospital in Codogno, northern Italy confirmed that a 38-year-old Italian man was infected with the coronavirus.
The man had no links to anyone who had been in China, where the Covid-19 outbreak first erupted.
One year on, Italy has so far seen more than 95,000 known dead, the second-highest coronavirus toll in Europe after the UK.
Expressing gratitude to doctors, nurses and other health care workers, Francis likened their dedication to “a vaccine against individualism and selfishness”.
The Pope said that such dedication “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”.
President Sergio Mattarella marked the first National Day of Healthcare Personnel by mourning the many medical workers who contracted Covid-19 and died.
According to professional associations in the sector, at least 326 doctors and 81 nurses have died of Covid-19.
Mr Mattarella said the professionalism and self-denial shown by the medical workers contributed to efforts “to avoid the epidemic’s precipitating into an irreversible catastrophe”.
The Italian leader said despite its many shortcomings, the national healthcare system has proven to be an institution “to preserve and to invest in, in order to protect” Italians collectively.
Some of the 209 billion euro (£181 billion) in European Union funding to help Italy rebuild from the devastation of the pandemic, economic and otherwise, will be earmarked to shore up and improve Italy’s public healthcare system.
More Covid-19 anniversary commemorations are scheduled for Sunday in Italy, especially in the hard-hit north, where the outbreak first pummelled the nation.