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STATE OF PLAY

Globalization brought us Covid-19—and the tools to fight it

Lucy Jones for Quartz
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

When the Black Death came to Italy in 1347, it came on the Silk Road. When a novel coronavirus came to Italy in 2020, it, too, came on the Silk Road.

In the 14th century, it was rats and their fleas coming from central Asia, hitching on to overland caravans of spices and silk from China and India. Arriving in Crimea, the goods, and the bubonic plague, boarded galleys to Genoa, beginning centuries of struggle in Europe to contain the virus. They didn’t know what hit them, and in the years that followed, half the population died.

This year, the cause may have been the soft export of tourism—two early cases in Rome were Chinese tourists—or perhaps the luxury goods industry, which imports Chinese workers along with Chinese raw materials in order to ensure final products are “Made in Italy.” This time around, Italians already had a name for the disease—and knew its genetic structure.

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