Italy Epidemic Follows China Ties, Though Origin Remains Mystery

By Petr Svab

About every two minutes, an Italian dies of the CCP virus, a pandemic of a SARS-like disease the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allowed to spread around the world by covering it up.

Italy has been the hardest-hit country after China, with close to 70,000 confirmed infections and over 6,800 dead as of March 24. It’s still not exactly clear how the Italian outbreak started. The province at its epicenter, though, has especially intense business ties to China and the country as a whole has been criticized for getting too close to the “Red Dragon.”

Seed of the Epidemic

The first two cases of the virus in Italy were a couple from Wuhan, China—the epicenter of the infection. They arrived in Milan on Jan. 24 and for the next week traveled south to Rome where they developed symptoms.

Another case was an Italian man who tested positive after returning from China in late January.

None of these, it seems, led to a larger outbreak.

For nearly two weeks the number of confirmed cases stayed at three.

Then, a mystery patient appeared.

On Feb. 18, a 38-year-old man showed up at the Codogno Hospital in a small town about 30 miles southeast of Milan. Two days prior, he was prescribed influenza medicine at the hospital, but his fever didn’t go down, Italian paper la Repubblica reported.

The man didn’t disclose any connection to China and no quarantine protocols were engaged.

The day after, he started to have breathing problems and his wife recalled he met a friend who returned from China several weeks before.

This triggered the alarm.

A test was administered and came back positive. The quest to reconstruct the man’s activities over the prior few weeks began.

It was a nightmare.

“He met more people in those days, between work and sport, than I did in six months,” commented Giorgio Scanzi, the hospital’s chief physician.

His pregnant wife fell sick, his personal doctor went sick, and some of the hospital staff went sick.

The number of cases in the area started to climb. First by dozens, then by hundreds, then by thousands. As of March 24, nearly half of all the confirmed cases in Italy are concentrated in the Lombardy region around Milan. The province of Lodi, which covers Codogno and the surrounding towns, has nearly eight infected per 1,000 residents—about eight times the national average.

But something isn’t adding up.

The sick man worked as a research and development manager for Unilever, a multinational food and hygiene behemoth. The company has an extensive presence in China, including a research and development facility in Shanghai, but it’s not clear whether the man could have come in contact with the virus even indirectly through Unilever operations. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

His friend, the one who returned from China, later tested negative.

So where did the man contract the virus?

There’s no clear answer. Italian authorities are now focused on the epidemic itself, rather than chasing the country’s patient zero.

One thing is clear though—if somewhere had close ties to China, it was Lodi.

China Ties

Despite having just about 230,000 residents, Lodi did more than $2.6 billion worth of business with China in 2018, a local Chamber of Commerce reported (pdf). That’s more than $11 million a head—a rate nearly four times the neighboring Milan.

Other hard-hit areas in Lombardy also have significant ties to China. Of all Italian provinces, Milan does the most business with China in absolute numbers—about $9.4 billion in 2018. The province has more than 5,700 virus cases.

Bergamo, the province with most confirmed cases (over 6,700), has long had a twin relationship with the Yanbian Prefecture, a Chinese autonomous region at the North Korean border. The prefecture even opened its own office in the Italian province. Its China trade reached nearly $1.6 billion in 2018.

Brescia, home of the iconic firearms manufacturer Beretta, is doing over $1 billion worth of business with China a year. It now has nearly 6,300 cases of the CCP virus.

Nationally, the regions that do the most business with China are also the ones hit the most by the virus. Lombardy—over $20 billion and over 30,000 cases; Emilia Romagna—over $6.2 billion and more than 9,000 cases; Veneto—over $6.4 billion and nearly 6,000 cases; and Piemonte—over $4.6 billion and over 5,500 cases.

But the correlation isn’t absolute. Campania, the most densely populated region in the country, only has about 1,100 cases. It’s still doing quite a bit of business with China, some $2 billion a year.

The virus is expected to function better in colder weather. That may be a part of why the southern regions, including Campania, have seen fewer cases.

At the same time, the mere presence of Chinese immigrants doesn’t necessarily align with outbreak hot spots.

The central province of Prato has been known for its large Chinese community. Thousands of Chinese textile factories, often staffed by illegal immigrants, have sprouted up in the recent decade or two, outcompeting the long-established local businesses by importing cheap Chinese fabrics, breaking Italy’s tight labor rules, and sometimes dodging taxes.

But the province has had only 159 virus cases.

Belt and Road

The Italian government has in recent years boosted its ties to China. Too much for the taste of the United States and the European Union, which urged Italy in vain last year against joining the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—Beijing’s infrastructure project to connect itself to Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, Latin America, and Africa through a web of ports, roads, and railways.

The project has been criticized for plunging developing countries into debt traps and for expanding CCP’s military and political sphere of influence.

Italy saw in China a source of investment for its struggling economy as well as a market for its products. But those prospects have been slow to materialize. In 2018, less than a quarter of a percent of all foreign direct investment in Italy came from China.

While the CCP has enjoyed the public relations effect of having one of the G-7 countries join the BRI, Italy hasn’t realized many benefits. The RWR Belt and Road Monitor, which tracks Chinese investments under the initiative, only spotted one deal so far: Jetion Solar (China) Co. and Eni SpA are to invest about $2.2 billion into new solar projects.

Meanwhile, Italy continues to run massive trade deficits with China. Over $200 billion in 2018 alone.

The virus now adds another perspective to the risk equation of China entanglements, according to Delle Vedove, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the conservative Fratelli d’Italia party.

“Of course the coronavirus opens a disturbing scenario,” he told The Epoch Times in a previous interview. “It tells us that interdependence from China can be a problem not only from an economic or industrial etc. point of view, but also from a national security, national health prophylaxis.”

From The Epoch Times