Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been released from hospital after an “insidious” bout of Covid-19 he said was the most dangerous challenge he has faced.
Wearing a suit and smiling after taking off his face mask, the 83-year-old Mr 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.
He urged Italians to take the virus seriously and “rigorously” adhere to mask mandates, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
Mr Berlusconi sent a special appeal to Italy’s students, millions of whom are returning to school for the first time since early March, when Italy became the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe and schools shut down.
The former premier, who has endured heart problems and uses a pacemaker, thanked his doctors and acknowledged most Italians of his age and in his condition do not 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.
Mr Berlusconi tested positive for the virus on September 2 and was admitted to San Raffaele early on September 4 with the beginnings of pneumonia.
He did not require intensive care but his doctor, Alberto Zangrillo, was quoted as saying that if Mr Berlusconi had got sick in March – at the peak of Italy’s outbreak when Lombardy hospitals were overflowing – he most certainly would have died.
According to Italy’s Superior Institute of Health, men aged 80-89 have the highest mortality rate of virus patients in Italy, at 46%.
Mr Zangrillo has said Mr Berlusconi was even more vulnerable given his pre-existing conditions.
Mr 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, Mr Berlusconi kept campaigning for upcoming administrative elections, calling into a rally of his Forza Italia party and urging Italians to vote.
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 one-time junior coalition partner, the League.
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