subacchi28_ALBERTO PIZZOLIAFP via Getty Images_coronavirusitalytourists Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images

Italy’s New Affliction

Having long been saddled with a sluggish economy, Italy is now faced with a recession. Along with Germany’s economic slowdown and the uncertainty of Brexit, the country’s COVID-19 affliction is further grim news for Europe.

BOLOGNA – Northern Italy currently is the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. So far, 17 Italians have died as a result of the new coronavirus, and 650 have been infected. Schools in the region have been shut, universities have suspended lessons, companies have asked their staff to work from home, and many theaters, cinemas, and bars are closed. The virus caused the cancellation of the last two days of the Venice Carnival, which attracts thousands of visitors every year. And the area south of Milan, where Italy’s first COVID-19 cases were reported, is under quarantine.

Epidemics are not new in Northern Italy, which was at the center of trade routes throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In fact, Venice was the first city to develop methods to contain and treat virulently contagious diseases. Back then, the authorities isolated people with symptoms in lazarets (ships permanently at anchor and used for quarantine) on islands outside the city, and restricted the movements and interactions of healthy Venetians during a 40-day quarantine period.

Evidence is mixed as to whether these measures were effective. Milan lost almost half its population to the plague in 1630, and Venice lost approximately 30%. But the mortality rate could have been much higher had the authorities not fought the contagion the way they did.

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