A 38-year-old anesthetist at Codogno hospital, Annalisa Malara, was horrified on February 20 when she saw the image of the lungs of Mattia Maestri, a 38-year-old Italian citizen who later became known as Italy's COVID-19 'patient 1'.

Maestri became the first Italian to be diagnosed with the virus, and from then on an outbreak ripped through the country, Europe and the rest of the world.

Since Malara's discovery, more than 70,000 Italians have died in the ongoing worldwide pandemic.

But on Sunday (December 27), as Italy kicked off vaccinations with health workers lining up to take the first shots of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, Malara saw a light of 'bottled' hope for Italy and also for Lombardy, Italy's hardest-hit region.

"On February 20 a nightmare started for me and for everyone," she told media. "Today represents the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic so I'm very happy that I can be here and see people receiving the vaccine."

Codogno was just the tip of the pandemic iceberg and some days after the first case was detected by Malara in the small, quiet town, nine other Lombardy towns went into lockdown, with the Italian government trying to halt an unstoppable wave.

But the measure was not enough and the virus spread across the country. .

Nurse Lucia Premoli took care of 'patient 1' back in February and on Sunday she was one of the health workers at the head of the queue for the shot and, after the inoculation, she hoped others will follow her example.

"I really hope that this will be the end of a cycle", Premoli told media. "I hope this will serve as an example for all those who still have doubts about the vaccine".

When Italy's first case was diagnosed in Codogno, the nearby Lodi hospital became the country's first Covid emergency unit.

"I think this could be a chance to start writing - I hope - the final chapter of this terrible story," Head of Emergency Ward at Lodi's hospital, Stefano Paglia, said on the so-called 'V-Day'.

Vaccine doses also reached Bergamo, one of Lombardy's worst-affected cities, as Europe launched a mass COVID-19 vaccination drive to see off a pandemic that has crippled economies and claimed more than 1.7 million lives worldwide.

The region of 450 million people is trying to catch up with the United States and Britain, which have already started vaccinations using the Pfizer shot.

The European Union is due to receive 12.5 million doses by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate 6.25 million people based on the two-dose regimen. The companies are scrambling to meet global demand and aim to make 1.3 billion shots next year.



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