The next day, the mayor was in his office in the center of Bergamo when news started to emerge that a patient in an emergency room in Codogno, a town southeast of Milan and about an hour’s drive away, had tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, a second case was confirmed in Alzano Lombardo, only a few minutes outside Bergamo.
In those long, harrowing days in late February, the coronavirus crisis seemed to bubble around the people of Bergamo, gathering force until it consumed them, too. The city shut down, the silence filled with sirens. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The local newspaper filled with the names of the dead. The army was called in to remove the bodies. Quickly, memories of that night in San Siro seemed to drift and fade, as if it had happened in another world.
“It was the last day of total ignorance,” Gori said. He had stopped smiling. “It was the last day when we did not worry.”
As the pandemic ravaged Italy in general, and the province of Bergamo in particular — Gori, the mayor, sadly noted that his city had become known as the “capital of Covid” — the greatest victory in Atalanta’s history, what had seemed at the time to be a night of joy and wonder, took on a far darker connotation.
Massimo Galli, a virologist at the Sacco Hospital in Milan, had suggested that gathering 40,000 fans together in such proximity had been an “important vector for contagion.” Fabiano Di Marco, the chief pneumologist at the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo, where he and his colleagues fought to save as many of the virus’s victims as they could, described it as a “biological bomb.”
In Bergamo, though, nobody held the team — or soccer as a whole — responsible for the unfolding tragedy. Of course, Gori said, it is common sense to assume that “it was certainly an episode that contributed to the acceleration of it: all those people in the same place, whether it was at the stadium or gathering at home or watching it in bars.”
But, he said, nobody could have been expected to have known. “As far as we were concerned, the virus was something that was happening in China,” he said. “It was not what happened that night. That game was the 19th. The first confirmed case was the 20th. The virus was already here.”