It’s been a year, a year like none. Exactly a year ago, Italians and Europeans as a whole became aware that this virus from Wuhan, which until then had been perceived more abstractly from afar, had arrived on the continent. Of course it had been there for a while. But on February 21, 2020, shortly after midnight, it became known that an Italian had tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 for the first time. At the hospital in Codogno, a town in Lodigiano in the south of Milan, between the Adda and Po rivers. 16,000 inhabitants.
A 38-year-old, athletic man, passionate runner and footballer, researcher at the international Unilever group in the neighboring municipality of Casalpusterlengo, was infected. The newspapers initially only called him “Mattia” to protect his privacy. After his recovery, Mattia Maestri appeared in public, gave interviews, and once his picture was even featured on the cover of the weekend supplement Gazzetta dello Sport. At the beginning it was also called “Paziente uno”.
His wife had said that her husband had never been to China in his life, but had met with a friend who had just returned from Asia shortly before the findings. Was this friend “Paciente zero”? That was the question in Italy. So it was assumed at the time that the first case that came to light was actually the first case in Italy. But the friend’s test was negative.
Maestri’s condition would probably not have been noticed if the anesthetist Annalisa Malara, who was on shift that night at the Ospedale Civico in Codogno, had not followed her intuition. To do this, she broke the protocol of the Ministry of Health, which at the time only provided for Covid tests for returnees from China. Maestri’s pneumonia seemed so atypical to the anesthetist that she tested him anyway. He was supposed to be in a coma for weeks, intubated, his life hanging by a thread.
The illusion of the red zone
Just two hours after the positive test was announced, the mayor of Codogno closed all schools, bars and shops. And 24 hours later, the Italian government imposed a total lockdown on Codogno and nine other municipalities in the area as well as the town of Vo ‘in Veneto. “Zona rossa”, highest danger zone. Nobody was supposed to go outside the front door anymore, the army moved out, at the entrance to the red zone there were now Carabinieri patrol cars. It was thought that this would isolate the cluster and stop it from spreading. It was an illusion.
The re was a lack of everything: protective masks, ventilators, beds in the intensive care units, and soon there was also a place in the cemeteries for the many victims.
Initially, there was also a lack of seriousness in the fight against the virus. On February 27, for example, there was an event in Milan for which politicians, right and left, issued the slogan: “Milan does not hold still.” In the dramatically affected Bergamo people were concerned about the economy, the industrialists shot a video for customers all over the world: “Bergamo is running”, it said. A lot of valuable time was lost.
“Paziente uno” is offered money for its story
It’s been a year. Italy has complained of more than 95,000 corona deaths since the pandemic began. Hundreds of more victims are added every day – and between 10,000 and 15,000 new infections. Codogno is doing a little better, at the moment 21 positive cases are known. Only one of them is serious and needs intensive treatment. A large number of the Codognesi are probably immune, including many who have not yet been vaccinated.
The city administration has set a memorial tree in the park on Via Collodi for the many victims of the city – it is a quince tree, typical of the area.
Mattia Maestri is healthy again after a long recovery, he also plays football again. His daughter is ten months old. She was born when he was in the hospital and Italy collectively feared for him. “I just want to forget,” Maestri said now Corriere della Sera, “I want my normal life back.” Many media would contact him, some even offer him money when he comes to the studio. “I wasn’t the first person to be infected, just the first Italian to be diagnosed with Corona,” he says. And that diagnosis changed everything.