Flanked by a police escort, a paramedic emergency vehicle, its hazard lights flashing, speeds through town towards the main hospital.
An emergency Christmas delivery handed to medical staff.
A small green refrigerated bag then hurried inside the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital, followed by two police officers.
The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in the northern Italian city of Bergamo.
This city, which was devastated by the pandemic, can learn to breathe again.
It is early days of course, but the vaccination process has begun.
The symbolic first dose given to the city’s head of doctors Guido Marinoni – looking after patients and the most vulnerable, as well as their medical carers – is a priority here.
The vaccination photo opportunities are a far cry from the near chaos that engulfed the emergency rooms of the hospital and shocked the world in March.
As a team, covered head to toe in PPE, we had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Back then, nobody knew anything really and nobody had seen emergency rooms and intensive care units with patients lined up connected to ventilators, slowly dying in front of our eyes.
Back then if you were unfortunate enough to be admitted to the ICU, you had, at best, a 50/50 chance of survival.
I remember working that out in our car, having read the daily and weekly mortality figures published by the Italian health ministry.
That was then. The world has now been completely enveloped by the virus, and the world is fighting back.
After the most difficult 10 months in medical living memory, the frontline staff who have fought and survived can relish the future.
They are exhausted for sure. But they can now see the light. For so, so long there was nothing but darkness.
Constant shifts. Constant death. Constant feelings of personal failure.
“Now we realise that maybe we are not enough,” Lorenzo Grazioli, an intensive care anaesthetist, told me at the time. It scared the hell out of me.
Outside I remember just talking to myself.
Basically, in despair, I said if a hospital as rich and well-resourced as the Papa Giovanni is overrun – what happens to the world, what happens to the UK? I had never felt so utterly helpless and scared for everyone I knew.
As I say, that was then.
Now there is a vaccine rollout and one of the first to get it in Bergamo is Dr Roberto Cosentini, the head of emergency care, who – with perhaps the most cool of cool heads – oversaw what looked like a warzone without bombs and bullets.
Roberto is a friend now. We don’t speak much but we don’t need to. His dream of a chance to relish a future where the virus can be beaten is being achieved.
I can’t really explain how much I feel for him and his staff. They let us into the hospital to send a message of warning to the world even though they were losing the fight. No professional wants to do that.
But they knew they had to warn everyone.
He now hopes we can all put this behind us.
He told us: “I think today is a historical day for human beings because it’s the first big step to win the battle against the virus.
“Before we only had to react to the safety measures, up and down according to the measures, but now we have the hope to turn the page and think of the future.”
The beautiful ancient city of Bergamo towers above its modern sibling. Both the old and new cities were engulfed by the virus and thousands died here.
The survivors of this virus storm can now walk through the historic cobbled streets, stopping to pick up a takeaway coffee and sit in the extremely quiet and socially-distanced Venetian squares to soak up the winter sun.
In March I met Michele and Serena, both in their 70s and both terrified. They hunkered down in isolation to see it out. They are much more relaxed now. The dream of a vaccine realised.
“The people of Bergamo are known in Italy as one of the most hardworking and passionate people, one of the mottos here is ‘Mola Mia’ (never give up) and the people of Bergamo have not given up,” they say.
“They have reinvented themselves.”
Bergamo, Italy and most of Europe are still struggling with coronavirus of course, but the vaccine programme now being rolled out across the continent is at least giving space for the countries’ leaders to plan for the future.
Giorgio Gori, the popular mayor of Bergamo, who imposed the original city lockdown and brought his two daughters back home from the UK because of the British government’s failure to lockdown or take the virus seriously, is now reinvigorated.
“It’s a real turning point, because now we can actually think of the exit point for this pandemic, we can plan a recovery time, we can plan to restart,” he says.
“We know we will probably have to wait a few months and probably we will have to face a third wave, but now we have big hope – we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Finally he can see a future without the curse of COVID-19 hanging over him and his city.
Where there was fear and grief, a new sense of optimism is sweeping across Europe and the world.
Finally 2020 has given everyone something to celebrate.
Source: Read Full Article