25 March 2020

Vo, Italy: The village that stopped the Coronavirus

There is a small town in Minnesota whose claim to fame, often expressed by its citizens, is that it stopped the notorious outlaw, bank and train robber Jesse James. The people of Northfield stopped the James-Younger Gang from robbing the First National Bank in 1876. Every September the people  celebrate the ‘Defeat of Jesse James Days.’

They are towns and villages that hold out against invasions of all kinds. The most celebrated, in fiction at least, is the village of Asterix and Obelix created by Albert Uderzo and  René Goscinny which I first encountered in 1976 when Milinda Gunathilaka, now Deputy Solicitor General, brought ‘Asterix and the Olympic Games’ to class.  Uderzo passed away a few days ago at the age of 92. He was the illustrator but created several original stories after his longtime collaborator passed away in 1977.

‘The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders.’

That’s the beginning. The Gauls are tested time and again, but Asterix and Obelix always come through with the help of the magic potion brewed by the druid Getafix which makes them invincible.

Not taking anything away from the genius of these two artists of course, but making the good guys win is easier in fiction than in real life. The people of Northfield stopped the James-Younger Gang but other towns were robbed.

Here’s a real life story. The whole of Italy has been invaded by the Coronavirus, but one village holds out: Vo, in the region of Veneto, right in the middle of what Italy is calling its Coronavirus Red Zone.

They had a druid. They had a magic potion. We don’t know whether the people liked to feast and brawl, but they came together against the invader. The village has the dubious distinction of having the first Covind-19 related death in Italy. It was a 78 year old man who died on February 23. Vo was one of 11 villages in Italy’s north that were shut down as the outbreak began.

What was the magic formula? Well, researchers from the University of Padua, along with Veneto regional officials and the Red Cross, decided to test all residents for COVID-19. Of 3,300 people nearly 3% were tested positive. Many of them had no symptoms. They were asked to self-quarantine. After two weeks, a second round of mass testing showed that the infection rate dropped to 0.41%. No new cases reported in days. Luca Zaia, the governor of Veneto, has now declared the town of Vo the ‘healthiest place in Italy.’

The magic potion had certain readily-available ingredients: science, collective effort, discipline and full-disclosure. The enemy is at the gates, still. Vo has shown that its defenses will hold. 

Interestingly, ‘Coronavirus’ is a character in ‘Asterix and the Chariot Race.’ Yes, the Gauls win the race.

So long, Albert. And that you too, René. Thanks for the stories. Thanks for the humor. And the lessons.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]

The 'We' that 'I' forgot 'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing? 

 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter 
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo? 
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry

A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody  
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop 
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists