3Sicily’s regional health counsellor resigned on Tuesday after being placed under investigation suspected of sending rigged COVID-19 data to national authorities to avoid tough lockdown restrictions for the southern Italian region.
Ruggero Razza, who has managed the epidemic in Sicily since the first Italian outbreak was discovered in the north of the country in February 2020, denied wrongdoing but said he had decided to step down to “protect” the regional administration.
“To save the administration from unavoidable controversy, I have asked the regional governor to accept my resignation,” Razza said in a statement.
According to a wiretap reported by Italian media, Razza told an official to “spread out a bit” some coronavirus-related deaths that had emerged three days earlier in a small town close to Catania, in eastern Sicily.
Carabinieri police said they believed Razza was “partially involved in the criminal activities” but there wasn’t yet any serious evidence against him.
Three people working for the regional government were put on house arrest on suspicion of rigging the island’s daily coronavirus figures.
They allegedly altered the data on the number of tests, cases and deaths that were being sent to the National Health Institute (ISS) every day, the Carabinieri said, adding they had evidence of some 40 forgery cases since November 2020.
The government uses the ISS’s weekly monitoring data to decided whether to tighten or loosen the curbs imposed on each of Italy’s 20 regions.
Italy has organised its restrictions around a four-tier colour-coded system – from no-risk white, to yellow, orange and high-risk red – which allows for different measures to be applied to different regions according to infection levels.
The government can also impose regional lockdowns – which include shutting down bars, restaurants and most shops – whenever there is a spike in cases and hospitalisations, severely limiting people’s movements.
Italy has registered 108,350 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 3.54 million cases to date.