Even as the United States faces renewed mask mandates and some schools may once again opt for virtual learning due to the increase in the Delta variant of the coronavirus, some European nations have announced efforts to live with it. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the governments of France, Germany and Italy are looking to draw up efforts for campaigns for booster shots, the wearing of masks, limited social-distancing measures and notably frequent testing to keep the virus in check.
Given that the world is unlikely to reach herd immunity, Europe has decided that if you can't beat it, live with it instead.
Germany had never fully lifted pandemic restrictions, the paper or record reported, and only now are bars and restaurants beginning to reopen. In France and Italy, there are great efforts to increase making vaccinations or a recent negative test a prerequisite for daily activities. As restaurants reopen, they are required to ensure customers are vaccinated or otherwise coronavirus free—and failure to check could result in fines of up to nine thousand euros or even a year in jail.
History of Long Pandemics
American patience for a return to normal ran thin even as the country was only going into lockdown in the early spring of 2020—and by last summer the pandemic fatigue had set in quickly. Many Americans resumed vacations last summer, which further increased in scale this year.
One factor could be that Americans lack the historical perspective of their European counterparts who endured great hardships from plagues and pestilence. The Black Death, which was the bubonic plague pandemic, lasted from 1346 to 1353 CE and resulted in the deaths of some seventy-five to two hundred million people.
That pandemic, like the coronavirus, may have originated in East Asia, but it made it arrived from trade routes in Crimea in 1347 and quickly spread throughout Europe—as it was carried by fleas living on the black rats that often traveled on Geonese slave ships. The Black Death wasn't the first major pandemic to strike Europe, as the Plague of Justinian some eight hundred years earlier also was spread via rats. It decimated the great city of Constantinople and spread across Europe, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East eventually killing some fifty million.
The truth is that the plague never really went away. Rather it is believed that many people simply built up a resistance, but flare-ups continued over the centuries until the plague hit again. While the Black Death was far worse than the Plague of Justinian, it could have been even deadlier. However, in the eight-hundred-year gap, Europe learned to adapt and the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa began to isolate newly arrived sailors to ensure that they weren't sick.
At first, the sailors had to remain on their ships for thirty days, which became known in Venetian law as the trentino—and when it was increased to forty days, it became the quarantino. That in turn became what we know today as a "quarantine."
This policy of isolating the sick slowed the spread of the disease. One city that didn't escape from it was rat-ridden London, which saw regular flareups between 1348 and 1665. Each of the forty-some-odd outbreaks killed upwards of 20 percent of the city's population, and it wasn't until the Great Fire of London, which killed or drove out the rats, that the plague was finally defeated.
It may not take great fires to end the coronavirus, but the practices of isolation and quarantine might remain the new normal in Europe for decades to come.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.