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Geopolitics

COVID-19 Culprits? Seeking Justice For Pandemic's Toll

Lawyers in Italy
Lawyers in Italy
Alessio Perrone

Here in the Italian region of Lombardy, which has been one of the pandemic's deadliest epicenters, months of grief have now turned to anger.


It began as relatives of COVID-19 victims formed a Facebook group Noi Denunceremo ("We will sue"), where 55,000 members are demanding the truth about Italy's fumbled coronavirus response, La Repubblica reported. Last month, after dozens poured into a local court to file reports, the prosecutor who took on their case grilled Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and regional leaders in Lombardy. We don't know if they will get the answers they seek, but the moment for hard questions has clearly arrived.


Similar lawsuits and legislative actions are spreading in other countries too, fueled not only by bereaved families but also by citizens and opposition politicians. More than 3,000 lawsuits have already been filed in the US. The UK's health secretary faces legal action. Meanwhile in France, the Parliament opened two enquiry commissions into the country's almost 29,000 deaths. "I hope for full transparency about what happened during the crisis, without neither attacks nor concessions," Eric Ciotti, an opposition leader in Parliament spearheading the probe, told Le Monde.


On a personal level for survivors, there is no doubt something comforting in the knowledge that investigations are opening: a moment of reckoning, righting wrongs and setting the record straight.


I live in Milan, the capital of Lombardy, and thankfully haven't lost anyone due to COVID-19. But my neighbors have — and witnessing those in my city and region taking action leaves little doubt for me: those responsible for what has clearly been grave mismanagement, including transferring patients to nursing homes and failing to test adequately, should be held accountable for their mistakes.

Lawsuits and legislative actions are spreading in other countries too — Photo: Marco Piraccini/Mondadori Portfolio/ZUMA


Looking for culprits in the aftermath of a tragedy is nothing new. Most major catastrophes are followed by a deluge of litigation: After the Great Recession, financial institutions faced lawsuits for misleading investors and regulation. After 9/11, a victim compensation fund paid $7 billion to victims and families if they agreed not to sue airlines.


But it is not always clear who (if anyone) is responsible for a death when a novel pandemic strikes every country in the world. Is it the government that created faulty pandemic plans? Or those who starved the hospital's budgets for years before? Or wait, is it — as an Associated Press investigation suggested — China's fault for allegedly withholding information early on?


The different strands of questions are visible everywhere, including here in Lombardy. The chain of events that led to thousands of deaths includes unreliable information coming from China; superficial World Health Organization scrutiny of that country; the authorities' refusal to set up localised lockdowns; widespread shortages of facemasks; the lack of chemical reagents and swabs; an order that doctors do not visit patients at home ...


The quest for truth and justice will no doubt teach us something about what happened, and hopefully lead to better policies in the future. But the question of justice — "who is the culprit?" — is less clear. The scale and suddenness of the pandemic raises a more philosophical question: When so many actors are involved, so many mistakes are made, millions of people suffer, whom do you punish? Or, what is the price if we don't punish anyone?

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Green

Moose In Our Midst: How Poland's Wildlife Preservation Worked A Bit Too Well

Wild moose have been spotted on Polish beaches and even near cities. They're a rare example of successful conservation efforts, but they're increasingly coming into contact with people.

Photo of a moose crossing a road

Moose seen in Poland

Joanna Wisniowska

GDANSK — Images of wild moose roaming the streets and beaches of Poland’s Baltic coast have been cropping up online more frequently. What should someone do if they encounter one? According to Mateusz Ciechanowski, a biologist at the University of Gdansk, the best option is to leave them alone.

“This is the result of the consistent protection that has been provided to this species of moose,” said Ciechanowski. “As the numbers increase, so does the animals’ range”.

Various media outlets have been publishing reports about spotted wild moose in the cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot with increasing frequency. Perhaps more surprising is that these moose have been seen on beaches as well.

Centuries ago, moose could be found all over the European continent. But, like the European bison, they were often hunted for their value as an attractive game animal.

Aside from population declines due to hunting, the drainage of European wetlands also decreased the number of viable moose habitats. The animals, which prefer marshy areas, dwindled without the proper natural environment to flourish in.

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