As northern Italy struggles with Europe’s first and largest outbreak of Covid-19, Robert Fisk examines the region’s links to China
8 hours ago
ROBERT FISK, THE INDEPENDENT
So what is it about Italy? It’s not difficult to trace the coronavirus path along the Muslim pilgrim routes of Iran. But it seems much more difficult to account for the extraordinary spread of the virus in Lombardy and 14 other provinces. Why have the Italian authorities placed 16 million of their people in quarantine while at the same time failing to explain to us why the richest part of their country has engendered so many cases of coronavirus around the world? Across Europe, recent visitors to Italy have returned home as carriers, infected and potentially infecting their family and friends as well as complete strangers in their own countries. Is there something about Italy we don’t know?
First, an important digression. At the time of writing, in Italy, 7,375 people have tested positive and 366 have died. But that’s only 20 more than the dead of the two Boeing 737 Max aircraft that fell to earth in Indonesia and Ethiopea, terrifying and tragic though these disasters were. And as we all know, up to 626,000 folk die every year around the world from common or garden flu. As Alex Thomson of Channel 4 keeps repeating: perspective, perspective, perspective. After all, when an expert talked on the same channel last week of coronavirus and the Second World War in the same sentence, I asked myself some simple questions. Yes, there are now more than 100,000 cases around the globe, almost four thousand of whom have died. But wasn’t the total death toll in the Second World War close to 70 million? Didn’t the Soviet Union lose 20 million souls in the war against Hitler?
But now back to Italy. Why is it a centre for coronavirus in Europe? My travels these past few weeks have included Lebanon, Turkey and Ireland, so Italy has not been on my journalistic radar. Indeed, I might have left this question about the people of northern Italy in the air had I not picked up on a comment made by the Italian ambassador to Dublin, Paolo Serpi, to RTE, Ireland’s national radio service.