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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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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