ROME – Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has made a career out of bouncing back from setbacks, was released from the hospital Monday after an “insidious“ bout of COVID-19 that he said was the most dangerous challenge he had ever faced.
Wearing a suit and smiling after taking off his face mask, the 83-year-old Berlusconi said doctors at San Raffaele hospital in Milan told him he had the highest levels of virus they had seen in the tens of thousands of samples they had taken over the past six months.
An emotional Berlusconi urged Italians to take the virus seriously and “rigorously” adhere to mask mandates, social distancing norms and frequent handwashing. He sent a special appeal to Italy’s students, millions of whom were returning to school for the first time Monday since early March, when the country became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe and schools shut down.
Berlusconi, who has had heart problems and has a pacemaker, thanked his doctors and acknowledged most Italians of his age and in his condition didn’t survive the virus.
“I overcame what I consider perhaps the most dangerous challenge of my life,” he said before putting his mask back on and getting into a waiting car to continue his recovery at home.
Berlusconi tested positive for the virus Sept. 2 and was admitted to San Raffaele early Sept. 4 with the beginnings of pneumonia. He didn’t require intensive care, but his doctor, Alberto Zangrillo, was quoted as saying that if Berlusconi had gotten sick in March — at the peak of Italy’s outbreak when Lombardy hospitals were overflowing — he most certainly would have died.
Acording to Italy’s Superior Institute of Health, men aged 80-89 have the highest mortality rate of virus patients in Italy, at 46%. Zangrillo has said Berlusconi was even more vulnerable given his pre-existing conditions.
Berlusconi seemed acutely aware of his chances. “But I can say with satisfaction that I dodged the bullet,” he said smiling broadly.
Even from his hospital bed, Berlusconi kept campaigning for upcoming administrative elections, calling into a meeting of his Forza Italia party and urging Italians to vote. His comments outside San Raffaele had the air of a political leader seeking to rally Italians to fight the virus and help Italy recover its devastated economy.
He expressed solidarity with all those Italians who are sick or have lost loved ones to the virus, and he thanked especially Italy’s health care personnel, more than 30,000 of whom have been infected.
“I saw firsthand that until the circulation of the virus is halted, each of us — even acting responsibly — risks being infected and infecting others,“ he said. Addressing students, he wished them good luck for the start of the school year but urged them to “rigorously” respect anti-virus measures.
“Do it for yourselves, your friends, teachers, parents and grandparents who can get infected,“ he said.
The three-time premier, a media mogul who first came to political power in 1994, has made a career out of rebounding from legal woes, personal scandal, heart trouble and political setbacks.
His centre-right Forza Italia party, once a dominant force in Italian politics, now polls in the single digits and trails more conservative parties, such as its onetime junior coalition partner, the League.