The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

Other people’s trials

Noel Grima Sunday, 22 March 2020, 08:07 Last update: about 16 days ago

I cannot get over the scenes from Bergamo in Italy. A town I always intended to visit but never got round to do it, though I have been to neighbour Brescia, polenta and all that.

The scenes of churches filled with coffins and the long queue of army trucks waiting to convey them to crematoria far and wide because the local ones could not cope, the incessant tolling of bells – all these scenes and more from an affluent city brought down by a virus.


This was a 'provincia bianca' with years of affluence and comfortable living  brought down by an implacable purveyor of death, almost as if a curse, one of those terrible ones we find in Greek mythology, had been hurled against the city.

Why Italy indeed, why Bergamo more than its neighbours. Bergamo was not just affluent but also deeply Catholic, filled with charitable institutions in the best tradition of post-Tridentine Catholicism.

To follow and study how the virus found its way from Wuhan in China maybe through a brief interlude on the Alps and down to the foothills of Bergamo is very instructive. It tells us how a blind virus moves along the lines of opportunities it finds and how peculiar circumstances can help it along the way and how others can conversely hinder and kill it.

I must make it here that the doctors of the Bergamo province are among the best. But when the different levels of regional, provincial and city authorities did not learn in quick time the lessons from Wuhan and delayed in taking appropriate steps to lock down the city and isolate those exhibiting early symptoms, the die was cast. In just a few days the medical structure was overwhelmed, the hospitals could not cope and the massacre was the inevitable conclusion.

A widely-diffused squeamishness has blocked us from really understanding the terrible end of those who die – the sinking feeling as if one is drowning but remains conscious till the very end. Dying without having one's loved ones around, many times all alone except maybe for a hard-pressed nurse or doctor. And above all, the feeling one is dying ahead of time when this end could have been avoided.

In the specific circumstances of our country, then, we have the added complication of those who blame government for not acting earlier. Other countries are both ahead of the curve or late, maybe too late. We may live to see the results over the coming weeks. Even now we can see the results of those countries which took immediate actions and these countries seem to be winning the war. We are still somewhere on a learning curve.

What seems clear, not just here in Malta but also elsewhere, is the difficulty governments and forces of law and order are encountering to get people off the streets and beaches. As for the quarantine regulations one hopes it is not true that the breach of quarantine charge sheet is not just another court paper to be dealt with at leisure and contested by lawyers.

Those countries which were or are lenient will suffer for it later.

Apart from all this, it seems there are some dirty games going on and the sick and the elderly are once again the victims.

In Italy it was revealed on Thursday that while the hospitals of the North were short of testing kits, a factory near Brescia was mass producing huge quantities but that these were airlifted to the United States by means of a military plane last Monday.

This revelation follows that by Bild, a German mass circulation paper that the US, or rather president Trump himself has been trying to buy up a small research company which is trying to find an antidote to the virus and to get it to relocate to the US were it not for the prompt intervention of Merkel's government.


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