Sylvia Poggioli

Italy's prime minister, health and interior ministers faced hours of questioning in Rome Friday as prosecutors opened an investigation into possible government mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis.

Investigators want to know why the towns of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro in the northern industrial region of Lombardy were not isolated and declared "red zones" as soon as the first cases were identified. As of now, no one has been charged.

The novel coronavirus is reviving one of Italy's fiercest debate topics — immigration.

The Italian government is considering giving work permits to thousands of undocumented immigrants in the country, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens crop harvests.

Seasonal farmworkers usually go to Italy each year from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, but recent lockdowns have kept them home. That's creating a critical shortage of labor for picking fruits and vegetables needed for food and exports.

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In Italy, where the coronavirus has shuttered more than 2 million businesses and left 1 in every 2 workers without income, some Italians are putting a new twist on an old custom to help the needy and restart the economy.

In Rome, the Piazza San Giovanni della Malva used to echo with the noise of crowded cafes and restaurants. Now, the only business open is a grocery shop, Er Cimotto.

It's so small that social distancing forces customers to order through the window.

Soon after the coronavirus hit Italy, a parody video of the Naples mafia, the Camorra, went viral, showing a bunch of guys with shaved heads meeting in an empty lot to make a deal.

"I got a new business in my hands," one says.

"100% pure," another thug marvels, unwrapping a packet and taking a sniff. "But what about cocaine?"

"Who gives a s*** about cocaine?" the first thug says. The new commodity — hand sanitizer — is "transparent gold."

Italy has been hard-hit by the coronavirus epidemic, with a death toll of more than 16,000. Its economy is in near-shutdown.

Although Italy's south has seen fewer deaths from COVID-19 infection than the north, its poverty and jobless rates are high. In lockdown since March 10, Naples, a normally bustling city of more than 2 million, is now a ghost town. Acts of charity, long a hallmark of this city, have become more important than ever as a means of sustenance.

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Cities across Italy, the country hardest hit in coronavirus deaths, marked a minute of silence on Tuesday at noon to honor the many victims since the outbreak emerged about six weeks ago.

The death toll as of Tuesday had reached 12,428, and the total number of cases stands at almost 106,000. Italy's victims account for more than a third of the pandemic's global fatalities.

As the death toll of the global coronavirus epidemic continues to rise, Pope Francis celebrated an extraordinary ritual Friday evening at the Vatican.

The pope prayed for an end of the epidemic and delivered his homily against the dramatic backdrop of an empty St. Peter's Square, glistening in the rain.

In Italy, when political analysts say, "Here comes the cavalry" ("arrivano i nostri"), they're not talking Hollywood Westerns. They're saying, "Here come our guys: the USA has got Italy's back."

But today, the "our guys" have included less traditional friends.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy continues to soar. In what has become a grim daily ritual, Angelo Borelli, the chief of the country's Civil Protection agency, announced that in the last 24 hours, the death toll from the virus had risen by nearly 800 to a total of 4,825.

That is the largest daily increase since the outbreak was revealed a month ago today. Italy has already surpassed China with the largest number of deaths from the pandemic. It now has 55,578 cases of the coronavirus, up from 47,021 on Friday.

Daniela De Rosa, a 43-year-old veterinarian in Italy's southwest Campania region, made a video message over the weekend as she was hospitalized with COVID-19. Her video plea has gathered much attention in Italy, which has just surpassed China in the number of reported deaths from the new coronavirus.

"I've been in isolation in a hospital room for so many days I've lost count," she says. "I have no contact with anyone other than doctors twice a day."

It has been less than a week since, along with 60 million Italians, I was put under a government-ordered quarantine to try to curb the spread of Italy's coronavirus outbreak, the worst outside Asia. The new slogan is #iostoacasa — I'm staying home.

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