ROME — Pope Francis has warned of a possible “viral genocide” if governments prioritize the economy over the people, insisting that the state’s first task is to “defend the population.”
“I am edified by the reaction of so many people — doctors, nurses, nurses, volunteers, religious, priests — who risk their lives to care for and defend healthy people from contagion,” the pope said in a handwritten letter sent Saturday to Buenos Aires judge Roberto Andrés Gallardo and made public in part by the state-run Télam news agency.
In his letter, Francis highlighted that “some governments have taken exemplary measures with well-marked priorities to defend the population.”
“Governments that face the crisis in this way show the priority of their decisions: people first. And this is important because we all know that defending the people is an economic disaster,” the pope wrote.
“It would be sad if the opposite were chosen, which would lead to the death of many people, something like a viral genocide,” Francis added.
The pontiff noted his concern over the “exponential growth” of the pandemic, while also lamenting the side-effects of the crisis, like hunger, violence, and the emergence of usurers.
“Preparing for the aftermath is important,” Francis said. “There are already some consequences that have to be faced: hunger, especially for people without permanent work (those who do odd jobs, etc.), violence, the appearance of usurers, (the true plague of the social future, dehumanized criminals), etc.”
The pope also said that while the measures enacted to curb the spread of the virus were burdensome, most people accept them as necessary evils.
“It is true that these measures ‘annoy’ those who are forced to comply with them,” he wrote, “but it is always for the common good and, in the long run, most people accept them and get along with a positive attitude.”
But nearly three weeks of lockdown in Italy are taking a serious toll on the poor, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, suggesting that the quarantine itself may end up being a greater health issue than the virus itself. More than just an “annoyance,” the lockdown has forced many poor people into a state of desperation.
Recent reports indicate that many in Italy’s south are already running out of food and money and police are now patrolling supermarkets on the island of Sicily following a series of thefts as customers seize food and run out of the stores without paying.
Some 300,000 people are paid under the table in Sicily alone, out of 3,700,000 in all of Italy, and most now find themselves without any income, a situation that the Mafia could exploit as people get desperate, warned Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo.
“Discomfort and malaise are growing and we are recording worrying reports of protest and anger that is being exploited by criminals who want to destabilize the system,” Mr. Orlando said.
“The more time passes, the more resources are exhausted,” he said. “The little savings people have are running out.”
“In the south, there is a very fragile socio-economic balance, where black market work, mafias, and crime thrive,” noted the former president of the Italian Senate, Pietro Grasso.
“There is a portion of population that leaves the house in the morning with the sole aim of feeding their family, without a reference point. All these families now have no chance of finding a solution to their livelihood,” he said.