The Italian city that suffered the brunt of COVID-19’s first deadly wave in Europe is dedicating a vivid memorial to the pandemic dead: A grove of trees, creating oxygen in a park opposite the hospital where so many died, unable to breathe.
Bergamo, in northern Italy, is among the many communities around the world dedicating memorials to commemorate lives lost in a pandemic that is nearing the terrible threshold of five million confirmed dead.
Memorial flags, hearts, ribbons and other simple objects have stood in for virus victims, representing lost lives in eye-catching memorials from London to Washington D.C., and Brazil to South Africa.
The collective impact of white flags covering 20 acres on the National Mall in the U.S. capital is one such display, representing the more than 740,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 — the highest official national death toll in the world.
A memorial wall along the River Thames in London similarly conveys the scale of loss, with pink and red hearts painted by bereaved loved ones. Walking the memorial’s length without pausing to read names and inscriptions takes a full nine minutes.
The hearts represent the more than 140,000 coronavirus deaths in Britain, Europe’s second-highest toll after Russia; like elsewhere in the world, the actual number is estimated to be much higher, at 160,000.
“It shocks people,” said Fran Hall, a spokesperson for the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. She lost her husband, Steve Mead, in September 2020, the day before his 66th birthday.
“Every time we are here, people stop and talk to us, and quite often they are moved to tears as they are walking by, and thank us.”
In Brazil’s capital, relatives of COVID-19 victims planted thousands of white flags in front of Brazil’s Congress in a one-day, emotion-laden action meant to raise awareness of Brazil’s toll of more than 600,000 deaths, the second-highest in the world.
And in South Africa, blue and white ribbons are tied to a fence at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Bedford Gardens, east of Johannesburg, to remember the country’s 89,000 dead: each blue ribbon counting for 10 lives, white for one.
Italy has not dedicated a national monument to its some 132,000 confirmed dead, but it has designated a coronavirus remembrance day. Premier Mario Draghi stood among the first newly planted trees in Bergamo’s Trucca Park on March 18, the anniversary of the indelible image of army trucks bringing dead to other cities for cremation after the city’s morgue was overwhelmed.
Bergamo’s mayor said the city considered proposals for statues or plaques bearing the names of the dead. One was too monumental; the other ignored that so many dead were not officially counted due to lack of testing.
“The Woods of Memory is a living monument, and it immediately seemed to us to be the most convincing, the most emotive and the one that was closest to our sentiments,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori said.
Only 100 trees have been planted so far of the 700 that are planned, facing the hospital’s morgue. The rest should be planted by next year’s March 18 remembrance day.
There are no plans to add names, but in at least one case, loved ones have claimed a sapling: Roses are planted at the base, with personal mementos hanging from it and a white rock bearing a handwritten name: Sergio.
What’s happening in Canada
Canadian health officials won’t be making a decision until the middle or end of November on whether the Pfizer vaccine will be approved for children aged 5 to 11, a senior official said on Friday.
However, they did recommend a wider group of vaccinated Canadians get booster shots.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) says everyone 80 and older should get a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot, regardless of where they live.
NACI is also recommending third shots for people fully vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, as well as people aged 70 or older, more front-line health-care workers and people from Indigenous communities.
Although NACI makes recommendations, it’s up to the provinces and territories to decide who will be offered booster shots.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott plans to unveil details next week about when people in the province can expect to receive their third shot.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday gave the green light to the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 5 to 11. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must sign off before shots can be distributed, but with that approval, vaccinations could begin as early as next week.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday morning, more than 246.1 million COVID-19 cases had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s online coronavirus database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.
In Europe, Russia on Saturday reported 40,251 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest single-day case tally since the start of the pandemic.
The government’s coronavirus task force reported 1,160 deaths related to the virus, three short of the daily record of 1,163 set the day before. The death toll since the pandemic began is about 462,000, state statistics service Rosstat said Friday.
Russia will go into a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November and the capital Moscow has reimposed a partial lockdown from Thursday, with only essential shops, like pharmacies and supermarkets, allowed to remain open.
In the Americas, 10 states filed a lawsuit on Friday to stop U.S. President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, arguing that the requirement violates federal law. Attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming signed on to the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal district court in Missouri. The states asked a federal judge to block Biden’s requirement that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus, arguing that the mandate violates federal procurement law and is an overreach of federal power.