By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli apologised on Wednesday for appearing to belittle the coronavirus by saying he didn't know anyone who had gone into intensive care, comments that angered many and set off a storm of criticism on social media.
In a video on Facebook, Bocelli asked forgiveness for any suffering, saying "it was not my intention to offend those who have been struck by COVID".
Speaking at the Senate on Monday, Bocelli said he believed the situation could not have been as serious as authorities were saying because he did not know anyone who had to go into intensive care. He urged people to disobey rules still in place.
Health officials criticised him and outrage flared on social media, with a Twitter hashtag #BocelliVergognati (Shame on you, Bocelli) going viral.
"Stick to singing!" one person tweeted, adding that the blind superstar was fortunate enough to spend the lockdown "in your massive villa and not have anyone in your family die."
More than 35,000 Italians have died from the coronavirus..
One tweet urged Italy's artists' copyright group to strip Bocelli of royalties and another said his comments were nonsense "whether you are from the right or the left". A club in a town in Bocelli's native Tuscany yanked one of his most famous songs from its juke box.
Bocelli's original comments surprised many because he was a symbol of national unity at the height of the lockdown on Easter Sunday when he sang in an empty Milan cathedral in a live-streamed solo performance called Music for Hope.
"To all those people who felt offended or suffered because of how I expressed myself – undoubtedly not in the best possible way – and the words I used, I ask that they accept my sincerest apologies, as my intention was quite the opposite," he said in his apology.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)