Bergamo, centre of Italy's COVID-19 tragedy, works to heal 'deep scar'

At the cemetery in Nembro, a village in the epicentre of Italy's COVID-19 crisis, grave after grave is marked by a simple wooden cross adorned by a piece of paper.

It tells you the deceased's name, their date of birth and death, and has a small photograph.

The dates of death are all the same - March and April 2020.

In the first 21 days of March, Nembro, which lies in the province of Bergamo, had a 1,000% increase in deaths compared to the same period last year.

In the city of Bergamo itself, the obituary pages of its newspaper, Eco di Bergamo, became a stark and tragic symbol of the crisis.

Normally, it publishes fewer than 20 death notices a day.

In March, it was more like 90 a day.

Sometimes more than 110.

Outside the newspaper's office, a large screen displays a memorial video, showing the faces of the hundreds of people whose deaths were announced in its pages.

Bergamo's mayor, Giorgio Gori, says Italy will have to rediscover some of the spirit that laid the foundations for its postwar recovery - but he's confident his city will recover.

(SOUNDBITE) (Italian) BERGAMO MAYOR, GIORGIO GORI, SAYING:

"We want Bergamo, which without wanting to became a symbol around the world for this epidemic, to be a symbol of rebirth. We want to use all the energies that we used to resist a moment of difficulty, that strength and that cohesion must now serve to start again."

Unlike the Renaissance-era architecture for which Bergamo's historic old town is famous, the human suffering here will one day go away.

But right now it feels like that day is a long way into the distant future.