Bergamo. The name of a pleasant city in Lombardy, Italy. It’s become notorious as the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic. Correspondent.world has been there, and discovered that the wheel of fortune has been turning.14 July 2020
Kitted out in body-hugging orange shirt and leg-hugging black shorts, Doctor Niccolo Varannini is perched on the saddle of his red-rimmed racing bike. Within hours he would swap his cycling outfit for a white body-suit and and sealed mask — as he returned to his job in the Intensive Care ward.
The Speciali Civili Hospital in Brescia possesses the unenviable record of having treated the highest number of cases in the Coronavirus-stricken province of Lombardy. In all, over 16 thousand Covid-19 patients have died in this province.
But not today. Dr Varannini is delighted to inform us that not one Covid-19 victim remains in his hospital’s Intensive Care ward. And the same is true at the main hospital’s ICU in Bergamo itself.
To celebrate this astonishing turnaround, the cycle-ride has hastily been arranged.
“Riding my bicycle is my mental space. It’s very important to me to get away from what I’ve had to do in the hospital,” says the 31-year-old anaesthesiologist.
Among the fellow-cyclists are the village’s mayor; a rider from the Giro d’Italia (the world’s second most famous cycle road-race); and the manufacturer of the bikes they are all riding.
“We want to enjoy the freedom we now have, to explore again in this beautiful region,” says bike manufacturer Rene Wiertz, owner of Bergamo-based T3. “We want to show the world that Lombardy’s a great place. Covid’s not completely over yet. But cycling is the perfect way to show the world, while still being very careful, that we can be outside and do sport.”
During the huge epidemic crisis, Wiertz and his colleagues adapted their bike-making equipment to manufacture life-saving devices for the local hospitals: ventilators. “We felt we just had to do something for our community while all our own manufacturing was idle,” Wiertz told correspondent.world. “We can manufacture more of our ventilators if any hospital anywhere in the world tells us they need it.”
Dr Varannini is still scarred by the awful choices his medical team had to make during that crisis. There simply was not enough room in the ICU for all who needed ventilators. “We had to judge each case by looking at the chances the patient would survive,” he says. “It’s not true we refused to ventilate anyone over 60, but age was obviously a factor in making our choices.”
He found relief when he could get away from hospital duties by going cycling through the nearby forests. He managed to hire a log cabin in the forest, brought his girlfriend there, and, over a cosy fire, proposed to her. She accepted. They will be married early next year.