The 5 million COVID-19 deaths honored by memorials around the world | Latest News Headlines

The 5 million COVID-19 deaths honored by memorials around the world

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The Italian city that suffered the full brunt of the first deadly wave of COVID-19 dedicates a living memorial to the dead of the pandemic: a grove of trees, creating oxygen in a park in front of the hospital where so many people died, unable to breathe.

Bergamo, in northern Italy, is one of many communities around the world dedicating memorials to commemorate the lives lost in a pandemic that approaches the appalling threshold of 5 million confirmed deaths.

Some have been drawn from artist ideas or civic group proposals, but others are spontaneous manifestations of grief and frustration. Everywhere, the task of creating collective memorials is heavy, the pandemic is far from over and new deaths are still mourned.

Memorial flags, hearts, ribbons: these simple items have replaced victims of the virus, depicting lives lost in eye-catching memorials from London to Washington DC and from Brazil to South Africa.

The collective impact of the white flags spanning 20 acres on the National Mall in the U.S. capital was literally breathtaking, representing the more than 740,000 Americans killed by COVID-19, the highest official national death toll in the world.


One paid tribute to Carey Alexander Washington, 80, of South Carolina, who was vaccinated and contracted the virus while still working as a clinical psychologist in March. Her 6-year-old granddaughter, Izzy, collapsed in grief when she found her “daddy” flag, a moment captured by a photographer and shared on Twitter.

Zoe Nassimoff, from Argentina, looks at the white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s temporary art installation, “In America: Remember,” in memory of Americans who died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington, September 7. 17, 2021.
(Associated press)

“Families like mine are still in mourning,” said Washington’s daughter Tanya, who traveled from Atlanta to see the memorial. “It was important to witness this honor being given to them. It gave a voice to all of our loved ones who have been lost.”

A memorial wall in London also reflects the scale of the loss, with pink and red hearts painted by grieving loved ones on a wall along the River Thames. Walking along the memorial without stopping to read the names and inscriptions takes a full nine minutes. Hearts represent the more than 140,000 coronavirus deaths in Britain, the second highest death toll in Europe after Russia; as elsewhere in the world, the actual number is estimated at much more: 160,000.

“It shocks people,” said Fran Hall, spokesperson for COVID-19 Bereved Families for Justice. She lost her husband, Steve Mead, in September 2020, the day before her 66th birthday. “Whenever we’re here, people stop and talk to us, and a lot of times they’re moved to tears as they walk by and thank us.”

Erika de Vasconcelos Machado, 40, gets hold of her father's name inscribed on the In-Finito memorial, installed to comfort family members and honor those who have died of COVID-19, at the Crematorium and Cemetery of the penance, in the Caju district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday October 27, 2021.

Erika de Vasconcelos Machado, 40, gets hold of her father’s name inscribed on the In-Finito memorial, installed to comfort family members and honor those who have died of COVID-19, at the Crematorium and Cemetery of the penance, in the Caju district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday October 27, 2021.
(Associated press)

In the Brazilian capital, relatives of COVID-19 victims planted thousands of white flags in front of the Brazilian Congress in an emotionally charged one-day action to raise awareness of the toll of more than 600,000 people in Brazil, the second highest in the world.

And in South Africa, blue and white ribbons are tied to a fence at St. James Presbyterian Church in Bedford Gardens, east of Johannesburg, to remember the country’s 89,000 dead: each blue ribbon counts as 10 lives, white for one.

The memory of the victims of war, atrocities and even health crises has evolved through the ages. The victorious statues of generals gave way to the Tombs of the Unknown Soldier after World War I, with the aim of remembering the sacrifices of ordinary soldiers. The Arche de Triomphe in Paris was one of the first.

“World War I was a benchmark, which is particularly relevant as it was followed by the influenza pandemic of 1918,” said Jennifer Allen, assistant professor of history at Yale University who has studied memorial culture. .

This pandemic appears to have received little commemoration, in part because of the special attention paid to war dead. “It was a time of massive death,” Allen said. “This is why we are talking about the lost generation.”

Holocaust memorials were the next major testimonies to the massacres, Allen said. They cover large traditional monuments like the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and more personalized tributes where the victims are named, like the so-called stumbling blocks outside the buildings where Jews lived before the Holocaust.

Volunteers work on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall in Westminster in London on Friday, October 15, 2021.

Volunteers work on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall in Westminster in London on Friday, October 15, 2021.
(Associated press)

Since the AIDS quilt made its way across the United States, with loved ones adding squares for those who had succumbed, a health crisis has only been the subject of memorials on a scale like those honoring now dead from COVID-19. The quilt has grown to nearly 50,000 squares, representing over 105,000 people.

Memorials like the AIDS Quilt and the Stumbling blocks have helped solidify a trend towards local memorials and the desire to honor victims as individuals, Allen said. Both emerge in COVID-19 memorials.

“We want to reach out to the individuals, who make up all of the millions of deaths,” Allen said. “As people so often point out: they were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, neighbors.”

The collective commemoration of the coronavirus deaths was complicated by the weight of private mourning, which was too often worn alone in the first wave, when funerals could not take place and loved ones too often died without the presence or caress of a loved one.

An Italian Facebook group, Noi Denunceremo, was created to publicly, if not virtually, remember the deaths in the country’s first draconian lockdown, and quickly turned into a collection of data on alleged failures that were turned over to prosecutors. .

In India, one of the worst affected countries in the world, an online memorial was launched in February,, inviting verified submissions with death certificates. So far, it has only 250 tributes, a tiny fraction of the more than 457,000 confirmed deaths, which in itself is a vast undercount.

“It’s not just commemorating, it’s how we can pay homage and dignity” to the dead, said Abhijit Chowdhury of the COVID Care Network who launched the memorial from the eastern city of Kolkata.

In Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, a bronze statue called the “Sad Angel” was placed in front of a medical school in March to honor the dozens of doctors and medical workers who have died from COVID-19. The sculpture of an angel with slumped shoulders and an inconsolable hanging head is all the more poignant given that its creator, Roman Shustrov, himself died of the virus in May 2020.

Italy has not dedicated a national monument to its some 132,000 confirmed dead, but has designated a day of remembrance of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Mario Draghi was among the first newly planted trees in Bergamo’s Trucca Park on March 18, the first anniversary of the indelible image of army trucks transporting the dead to other towns to be cremated after the town mortuary was submerged.

The mayor of Bergamo said the city had considered proposals for statues or plaques with the names of the dead. One was too monumental; the other was unaware that so many deaths were not officially counted due to lack of testing.


“The Wood of Memory is a living monument, and it immediately seemed to us to be the most convincing, the most emotional and the closest to our feelings”, declared the Mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori.

Only 100 trees have been planted to date out of the 700 planned, opposite the hospital morgue. The rest should be planted by Remembrance Day on March 18 of next year.

There are no plans to add names, but in at least one case relatives have claimed a sapling: roses are planted at the base, with personal keepsakes hanging on them and a white stone with the name manuscript of a dear departed: Sergio.

PA journalists, Pan Pylas in London, Phil Marcelo in Boston, Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi, Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, Irina Titova in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Débora Álvares in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.

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