Coping after lockdown: Life in Italy's hardest-hit COVID-19 area
Alex Fraser in Bergamo

The province of Bergamo in northern Italy has suffered heavily from COVID-19. Some of the first places to show signs of an outbreak were the towns in the Seriana Valley in late February and by the time authorities imposed a lockdown throughout Lombardy on 8 March, the virus had spread across the community.

The graveyard in the valley town of Nembro tells the story of the deadly epidemic. There is a line of fresh graves, soil still piled hastily next to makeshift crosses. Tombstones are replaced by printed photos of the deceased, the dates of death all from February to April 2020.

Niky Signi, 43, has come to visit the graves of friends. The cemetery has only recently reopened to the public as Italy begins to ease lockdown restrictions.

"It was like a nightmare here. We have lost a lot of people and a lot of people have been affected by this virus," she said.

Officially, from January to March there were 34 confirmed coronavirus deaths in Nembro. But during the first 21 days of March, the town had a 1,000 percent increase in fatalities compared with the previous year.


The freshly dug graves in Nembro cemetery tell a tale of the valley town's COVID-19 tragedy. /CGTN Europe

The freshly dug graves in Nembro cemetery tell a tale of the valley town's COVID-19 tragedy. /CGTN Europe

"It's a small community. Everyone knows each other. Many old people have died. You usually see them walking in the mountains, now you don't see them anymore," says 64-year-old Carlo Corna.

The province of Bergamo is home to 1.1 million of Italy's 60 million people, but it has accounted for 10 percent of Italy's recorded COVID-19 deaths. The local newspaper, L'Eco Di Bergamo, was printing 11 pages of obituaries at the peak of the pandemic.

The newspaper calculated the death toll in March alone was 5,400 people in the province, far higher than the official figure of 2,060.

The Città Alta overlooks the city of Bergamo, in the center of the province. The old city's renaissance architecture usually draws tourists from across Europe. Under stage two of Italy's lockdown-lifting measures, just a few bars and restaurants are open with takeaway service only. The city's central square, Piazza Vecchia, is empty.

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Businesses are worried that the tourists won't return because Bergamo has become infamous for the European outbreak.

Samuel Palacio owns a 16th century pizzeria and hotel overlooking the square.

"This restaurant and hotel has existed since 1527. It's resisted war, a revolution, it's resisted a lot. We will see if it resists this pandemic," he said.

Bergamo's Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital has been at the forefront of dealing with the virus in Europe. At the peak it was admitting 90 COVID-19 patients per day.

Case numbers are now decreasing, but Bergamo is badly scarred from the first outbreak.

The virus has left devastation and death throughout the valley.

People lost the ones they love, many were unable to say goodbye as family members died in lonely isolation.

Video editor: Sam Cordell

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