Around 500 relatives of coronavirus victims are suing the Italian state for $122 million, alleging a litany of failures in the early stages of the pandemic, campaigners said on Wednesday.
The action is being driven by the group "Noi Denunceremo" (We Will Denounce), which has already filed around 300 complaints with prosecutors in Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region that suffered most from the first wave of the virus.
The legal action targets Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, the group said in a statement.
Italy was the first country outside China to suffer a major outbreak of coronavirus and remains one of the worst hit, with almost 70 000 reported deaths so far.
The lawsuit alleges "serious omissions" by the Lombardy and central governments, starting with a decision to reopen the Alzano hospital on 23 February after it was shut following the detection of the first Covid-19 cases.
The statement also cited a "severe delay" in closing off the infected towns of Alzano and Nembro, as well as a lack of up-to-date pandemic plans at both local and regional levels.
The Italian government imposed a national lockdown on 10 March, but prosecutors in Lombardy are investigating whether local action should have been taken earlier.
Regional leaders and Conte's government blame each other.
"This proceeding is to be considered a Christmas gift to those who should have done what they were supposed to do and did not do, while in Italy on 25 December, there will be 70 000 empty chairs," said Noi Denunceremo president Luca Fusco.
"With proper planning, as requested over and over again by the European Union and World Health Organization, we are sure there would have been many fewer."
Half of the coronavirus deaths recorded in Italy have been since mid-July, when infections reached their lowest point, which means that the second wave looks set to be least as deadly as the first.
The government declined to impose another full lockdown after infection rates rose again in October, instead ordering targeted restrictions in certain regions.
Further nationwide measures will also be imposed over the Christmas and New Year holidays.