By Emily Roe
ROME (Reuters) – Italians marked a minute of silence and flags at government buildings were lowered to half mast on Tuesday to honor the thousands of victims of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Vatican, a tiny city-state surrounded by Rome, lowered its own yellow-and-white flags. Italians on the other side of the border lowered their green, white and red national tri-color as well as the flags of their cities and of the European Union.
The initiative was promoted by a group of mayors to show solidarity with the towns suffering the most in the north, the epicenter of the crisis.
Italy is the world’s hardest hit country in terms of deaths and accounts for more than a third of all global fatalities.
“This moment of silence of mayors, in which even the presidential palace and the Vatican participated, is an important moment for our country, showing unity from north to south,” said Antonio Decaro, mayor of the southern city of Bari, which so far has been spared the worst of the outbreak.
Mayors wearing their official tri-color sashes and some donning surgical masks looked on somberly as buglers played on empty streets that before the lockdown to try to contain the virus would have been packed with residents and tourists.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro stood by the unusually still waters of a canal, free of boat traffic because of the national lockdown.
“All the mayors have gathered together in a kind of ideal embrace, most importantly to be close to the places that are suffering the most, where the virus has been the most ferocious, to be close to the mourning for those who have died,” Decaro said.
The lockdown was due to end on Friday, but has been extended until sometime after Easter, which falls on April 12 this year.
As the total number of dead on Tuesday rose by another 837 to well over 12,000, Decaro said the mayors’ initiative was a sign of respect for all suffering families.
“We are trying to send a message of hope,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters television staff; writing by Philip Pullella; editing by Barbara Lewis)