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Coronavirus Italy: 57 health workers made Knights of Republic

Italy has bestowed the country's highest honour on 57 health workers who fought coronavirus, including a nurse who went viral after being pictured slumped from exhaustion on her desk.

The group, who also included doctors and scientists, were named as Knights of Merit of the Republic by president Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday.

They were rewarded for being 'particularly distinguished in the service of the community during the coronavirus emergency.'  

In March, the country surpassed China to become the epicentre of the pandemic in after an explosion of cases in its northern Lombardy region.

There were shocking scenes in the country's hospitals as medics were overwhelmed by thousands of people needing treatment in intensive care.  

Nurse Elena Pagliarini, 43, became a symbol of the Italian health workers' efforts when a picture of her asleep still in her gloves, masks, scrubs and headgear at a Cremona hospital was heavily shared in March. 

Italy has bestowed the country's highest honour on 57 health workers who fought coronavirus, including nurse Elena Pagliarini, 43, who went viral after being pictured slumped from exhaustion on her desk

Five days after the photograph was taken the nurse tested positive for coronavirus but then recovered and returned to work.

Also honoured were doctors Annalisa Malara and Laura Ricevuti who were the first to treat Italy's first coronavirus patient.    

Italy slowed the spread of COVID-19 after imposing one of the strictest lockdowns seen on the continent on March 9.  

The Government shut parks and only allowed people to venture within a few hundred metres of their door for essential exercise or food shopping.

Italians faced questioning, fines and even prison sentences if they were found outdoors without valid reason. 

The group, who also included doctors and scientists, were named as Knights of Merit of the Republic by president Sergio Mattarella during a visit on Tuesday to Codogno, the epicentre of Italy's coronavirus outbreak

They were rewarded for being 'particularly distinguished in the service of the community during the coronavirus emergency'

The country has suffered just over 33,000 deaths and is now reporting less than 100 fatalities a day as the outbreak fizzles out. 

On Wednesday, Italy re-opened regional and international borders in what was the final phase of easing its long coronavirus lockdown.      

Families and loved ones separated by the global pandemic could finally reunite but normality remains a long way off.

Italy is the first European country to fully open its international borders, dropping the 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors. 

But most European nations see Italy's move - which aims to boost its collapsed yet critical tourism industry - as premature. 

Many of them are moving to open only on June 15 - and some even much later than that. 

Ms Pagliarini became a symbol of the Italian health workers' efforts when a picture of her asleep still in her gloves, masks, scrubs and headgear at a hospital in Northern Italy was heavily shared in March. Five days after the photograph was taken the nurse tested positive for coronavirus

Italy also resumed high-speed train service between regions for the first time since the lockdown in early March, checking departing passengers' temperatures as they accessed the tracks. 

After recovering from her coronavirus battle, Ms Pagliarini said: 'I can't wait to get back.' 

The picture of Ms Pagliarini was published by industry website Nurse Times, and shared around the globe.

Still wearing her face mask and surgical gown the photo spoke of the Italian hospitals 'overwhelmed' by the crisis.

A fellow medic who took the picture said: 'We are all tested in body and mind, seeing all those sick people, asking for help with our eyes.

'We started at 8pm. We had been working tirelessly for over ten hours.

'I saw Elena rest five minutes after hours spent running from one patient to another, trying to help yet another patient who came with a fever and respiratory failure.'

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