Italy marks Republic Day with tribute to COVID victims

Italy marked its annual Republic Day with a tribute to the almost 33,500 Italians who lost their lives to the novel coronavirus.

The national holiday is the anniversary of June 2, 1946, when a majority of Italians voted in favor of being a republic instead of a monarchy in a national referendum that was also the first time women were allowed to vote, Xinhua news agency reported.

On Tuesday morning, Italian President Sergio Mattarella placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument in the central Piazza Venezia, in the presence of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and other top officials.

Then the Air Force acrobatics team — the Frecce Tricolori (Italian for “three-colored arrows”) — flew in formation over the capital, leaving smoke trails in the colors of the Italian flag: green, white, and red.

This year, beginning on May 25, the Frecce Tricolori have flown over the capitals of Italy’s 20 regions in what the Air Force called “a symbolic hugging of the entire nation with the three-colored smoke in a sign of unity, solidarity and recovery.”

“One of the crucial principles of acrobatic flight is that of flying together while maintaining the right distance,” the Air Force said in a statement. “This principle can become a metaphor for … our daily lives now: distant, but united.”

The Frecce Tricolori also flew over the town of Codogno in the northern Lombardy region, where the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out on Feb. 21 and where the first red zone was set up.

Instead of presiding over the traditional military parade in Rome, which was canceled this year, Mattarella on Tuesday traveled to Codogno to “pay tribute to all the victims and to bear witness to the courage of all Italians” in the battle against the new coronavirus.

He met with local and regional officials and visited the local cemetery, where he laid a wreath for those who lost their lives to the virus.

Back in Rome, Mattarella attended a concert in honor of the victims of the novel coronavirus at the Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital, which houses the National Institute for Infectious Disease (INMI) and which is on the frontlines in battling the virus.

In a televised speech to the nation on Monday evening, Mattarella said that “many of us hold the heartbreaking memory of those who passed away due to the coronavirus: relatives, friends, colleagues.”

The president said the people of Italy are fighting “an invisible enemy” which has “disrupted our lives … and placed the productive structure of our country under enormous strain.”

More challenges lie ahead in the “reconstruction” of the country in the wake of the pandemic, Mattarella said, adding “we are not alone.”

“Europe shows it has recovered the authentic spirit of its integration,” Mattarella noted.

“Solidarity between the countries of the (European) Union is not one option out of many, but the only way to face successfully the most serious crisis our generations have experienced,” he said.

“No country will have an acceptable future without the European Union — not even the strongest, not even the one least stricken by the virus,” the president stressed.