In the year 1720, a ship was quarantined at the port of Marseille because a strange infection was killing people on the ship.
Deputy Mayor of Marseille lifted the quarantine to “help the economy”.
100,000 people died.
More than half of Marseille died.
This was the Great Plague of Marseille.
The government of Marseille felt they could not afford to lose all the valuable goods on the ship as it will destroy the economy.
As they lifted the quarantine and moved the goods into the city of Marseille, they moved in the infection.
More than half of the citizens of Marseille died.
Marseille is a major port city in the south of France.
By the end of the Great Plague of Marseille, the city of Marseille had 50,000 dead people (out of a total of its 90,000 population back then).
The ship left Sidon in Lebanon, picking up people in Tripoli and Cyprus which already had the infection outbreak.
A Turkish man on the ship was the first to be infected and died, then several sailors died. The ship’s surgeon also died.
When the ship got to Marseille,
Doctors quarantined it.
Now because Marseille had a very huge trading arrangement with “Levant” (a term for countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine); the government was convinced by businessmen that the quarantine on the ship has to be removed and the goods released.
Some powerful businessmen led by the deputy mayor of Marseille (who was also the owner of the ship) convinced his friends in government to release the quarantine. Some merchants needed the cotton and silk cargo onboard the ship to do business for the upcoming festival in Beaucaire.
It was only a matter of days later before the infection broke out in the whole of Marseille.
People started dropping dead.
They died so much there was no longer graves to bury them.
Dead bodies littered the streets of Marseille. Till date, the people of Marseille remember this story.
Apparently what happened was:
The government tried to be clever.
They told themselves “we will only move the silk and cotton onboard the ship into the city but not the infected people on the ship”.
In moving the goods, they unknowingly brought in infected rats which then infected the people.
As people got infected, they passed the infection to one another. At a point, the government of France built a wall to stop Marseille from infecting the rest of the country.
But it was too late as 10,000 people from Marseille had already ran into the neighbouring cities. 50,000 people died outside of Marseille.
The Great Plague of Marseille lasted about 3 years. Those were horrible years in Marseille and in France.
Hospitals were overwhelmed.
Residents were fleeing their homes.
Dead bodies lying and decaying on the streets.
As the infection spread,
Nobody cared anymore about the “economy”.
I hope we can learn something from this.
The Great Plague of Marseille is a HUGE warning to governments all over the world never to prioritise the “economy” ahead of human lives and public health. It can be a very costly mistake.
We can always rebuild the economy.
But we can never bring back the dead.