Is Covid-19 another Black Plague? A comparative analysis

The accusatory finger pointed at China, where the disease originated and then became known to the world, has been replaced by a warning finger that points at Corona patients in general.

Dr. Yechiel Shabiy

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Nearly one million five hundred thousand people have been infected worldwide by the mysterious virus that originated in China.

In the far East, Middle East and Europe, there are large numbers of people infected, and the disease travels through the country's tourism and trade routes, reaching almost everywhere in the world.

The world is closing in on itself. Canceled flights and citizens from different countries are marked as potential sources for transmission of the disease, and entry into different countries is prohibited. The accusatory finger pointed at China, where the disease became known to the world, was replaced by a warning finger pointing at Corona patients in general.

The fear of the neighboring state is the same as the fear of the neighboring city, the fear of the neighbor, the brother, the father and the son, basically anyone who does not live with you. Even a husband should be afraid of his wife or sons, lest he be infected. The fear of everything that was familiar to us has overcome the openness we enjoyed only two months ago.

Nearly seven centuries ago, another epidemic moved by means of the trade and cultural paths from China to the west - the Black (or Bubonic) Plague epidemic. Apparently, the epidemic broke out in southern China, in a bacterium found in the bodies of fleas that lived on rats, and these moved with them from one place to another in food deliveries such as wheat bags or clothing and goods exported from western China.

The route was composed of several countries that created the largest continental continuum up to that time: from China, Korea, Vietnam, through Central Asian countries, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, to Russia and Ukraine. And the trade route was used by the traders, but also by the fleas and the disease they carried from one place to another.

The main trade route in those days was the Silk Road across the Asian continent from east to west - from China through the Central Asian countries to Persia and Russia and then to Europe. Alongside, were the maritime trade routes between the China Sea and India, and from there to Egypt, Africa and the Mediterranean. The Corona today enjoys another advantage, the air trade routes through which the virus reached America at lightning speed.

The spread of the Black Plague pandemic was formidable. During the years when the plague raged, about half of China's population perished, going from one hundred and twenty-three million to sixty-five million. In 1348, the plague hit powerfully in the cities of Italy, reaching England, and from there to Iceland and Greenland, eliminating the Viking colony there. Between 1340 and 1400, Africa's population decreased from eighty million to sixty-eight million, Europe's population seventy-five million to fifty-two million, and Asia's population from two hundred thirty-eight million to two hundred million.

The Black Plague completely changed people's perception of the Chinese Empire and its Mongol rulers. Until the outbreak of the epidemic, the Mongols were a role model, and were seen as an advanced empire that exported values such as religious tolerance, openness, the adoption of advanced technologies including paper processing, printing, exploitation of gunpowder and compass development, along with the use of silk fabrics like satin. So much so, that in murals and frescoes in churches all over Europe, the Christian Savior was clothed in satin fabrics, embroidered in Mongolian script, with his eyes and expression East Asian.

In the years when the plague decimated millions of people, the silk route was perceived as the way to death, and traders stopped using it. The Mongol empire disintegrated and the main trade link between East and West lost its importance. Mongolian government in China gradually weakened, and eventually the Mongol emperor and tens of thousands of his fighters fled to Mongolia, returning to a nomadic, shepherd life after ruling half the world.

As a rule, the epidemic was attributed to the Mongols and Chinese and damaged their image and reputation. In Europe, the populace perceived the Jews to be responsible for it, as the percentage of Jews affected was nil. This is, of course, was due to the hygiene Jews adhered to, and not because of the poisoning of the wells of which they were accused.

Following the severing of trade with the Chinese-Mongolian Empire, Europe experienced a tremendous backtracking, accompanied by a process of seclusion and disengagement from the process of economic globalization led by the Mongols. Europe was set in the darkness of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition flourished, minorities were persecuted, populations were expelled, women were brought to the stake on charges of witchcraft, and the entire world became gloomy and dark.

And in our day, entire countries are in quarantine, tens of thousands have died, economies are falling apart and only the recurring waves of the epidemic are unremitting.

Macro industry economists' forecasts have long pointed to a projected cessation of globalization as supply chains are coming  home, approaching consumers and directed to strategic allies.

We are already witnessing how the airways, the silk routes of the modern global world, are being blocked and how countries lock themselves up and take maximum precautions to avoid contagion. Will the Corona epidemic strengthen the de-globalization trend, or will the flat world find a quick way to deal with the Corona? Time will tell.

To be sure, however, the person, company or country from which the vaccine for the virus comes will gain world glory, and bring about rational and non-hysterical coping methods with these trends.



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