Italy’s Misfortune: Is Covid19 The New Black Plague


The COVID-19 pandemic is exacting a heavy toll in Italy, overwhelming hospitals and causing lockdowns throughout the country – the death rate in Italy outstripping the total reported in China.

At the time of writing, there are around 63,900+ Coronavirus cases detected, and more than 6,000 are dead in the most-unfortunate European country – Italy. 

On Saturday 21st of March alone, the country reported 793 deaths – the all-time high since the outbreak began.

Even after a series of near-draconian measures like a nationwide lockdown and the businesses shutdowns, Italy is still unable to “flatten the curve” of slowing the spread of the contagion, facing the overburdened healthcare conditions.

One could say that the population in Italy consists of more elderly people; Italy has the second-oldest population, Japan is the first – more than 80 percent of those who died were over 70 – this could be the reason for the worsening conditions. 

Another reason could be the healthcare system of Italy, which offers universal (largely free) coverage; according to reports, many patients died due to coronavirus at Sacco Hospital – Italy’s largest medical centers – were already suffering from other diseases. According to the same report;

Around 48 percent of the deceased was already having an average of three pre-existing illnesses.

Experts are also blaming Italy’s “social contact matrix” for the wider spread of the coronavirus among older people; mostly elderly Italians are not isolated, and their life is mostly characterized by the interaction with younger population compared to other countries.

Though these factors are non-negligible, and could possibly contribute to the worsening COVID-19 in Italy but if we look at the historical aspects of European countries, Italy, in particular, we can see the other aspects of the same picture.    

Black Death vs COVID-19 – Italy ONLY

Many are relating the deadly COVID-19 with other historic pandemics to find answers; even the word Public Healthcare was coined after a European crisis known as the Bubonic plague, which is the core reason of Black Death.

Bubonic plague is considered the deadliest pandemic recorded in the world’s history. The world has exposed three pandemic outbreaks of bubonic plague, the worst one known as the ‘Black Death’ that killed around 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, 25 and 34 million deaths in Europe alone, between 1347 to 1353.

The same Bubonic Plague emerged again in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan in 1894, which spread to Canton and Hong Kong, and in just two years, the pandemic reached Bombay. And in a couple of years, it had reached ports on every continent. Over a period of 30-years, the outbreak killed 12 million people in India alone.

The coronavirus pandemic owes one of its most important features to the Black Death outbreak, and that is quarantine; is this only thing we have learned from the world’s deadliest pandemic?


Interestingly, the so-called Black Death also began in China (other studies suggest Central Asia—possibly Kazakhstan is its origin from where the virus spread to China and Europe) and made its way to Europe, exactly like COVID-19, the pandemic was caused by a bacterium, Yersinia Pestis. As per the plague theory, fleas carry the plague-causing bacteria from rodents to humans.

Just like Coronavirus, the plague spread widely and killed young, healthy people in less than a week, but this time, older people are at higher risk, especially those with heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.

Unlike bubonic plague, which is now controlled with antibiotic medicine, unfortunately, COVID-19 is uncontrollable as there is no cure or vaccine has been developed so far.

Even the first theories of disease contagion also conceptualized at the time of bubonic plague outbreaks, which then led to some public health measures like limits on overland movements and compulsory burial. 

Another relatable factor is the origin of both viruses- they both are associated with animals, both jumped from animals to humans; the Black Death is often associated with rats and fleas, while the COVID-19 is associated with pangolins.  

Just like the way ports turned away ships from plague-ridden places for 40 days, the same happened in 2020. Three cruise ships from coronavirus-stricken areas have been refused in places like Thailand, Japan, and the Philippines out of concerns that crew and/or passengers might spread the infection.

Spanish Flu vs COVID-19 – Italy ONLY

Unfortunately, Italy was one of the most severely affected European countries by the Spanish flu; according to the new estimate, around 466,000 died due to the flu, among which 70,000 were military personnel. Worldwide, the outbreak killed more than 30 million people – some estimates the figure at 100 million, overshadowed by World War 1. 

The terrible influenza pandemic of 1918 and the coronavirus outbreak share one feature, it is that the people are terribly afraid. In December 1918, 1,000 public-health officials gathered to discuss the disease which then killed an estimated 400,000 people in just three months. Just like COVID-19, people at that time did not know the actual cause of the epidemic, had no treatments, and people had little idea how to control the spread. Face masks offered but no guarantee of protection (that remains true of face masks today).

Be it Black Death, Spanish Flu, or COVID-19; the question is WHY Italy? 

Though it’s a different world now from the one that saw the Black Death and Spanish flu, things are at a different scale now, more research and more efficient approaches have been evolved to deal with diseases, but the question is – Why ONLY this European country faced the most consequences? 

Anyway, thankfully, to deal with COVID-19, we can do better, we have preventive measures too – hand-washing, social distancing, covering mouths when coughing, and staying home – to reduce the chances of spreading the infection—and most importantly, the fear that is increasing its damage.


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