In Snake Oil, I detail the evidence that the Chinese Communist Party used multiple modes of influence including online propaganda, mainstream media, and fraudulent “science” to popularize lockdown policies that were unprecedented in the western world. But for many, one big question remains: Yes, this may all be true, but what about Italy? In the words of Neil Ferguson, architect of the wildly-inaccurate Covid models that sent the world into a tailspin:
It’s a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… And then Italy did it. And we realised we could…
This is, of course, true. Italy’s adoption of China’s containment policy was one of the most important events instigating lockdowns across the free world—and, I would argue, one of the most darkly clever aspects of the lockdown operation. Limited information as to how Italy’s lockdowns transpired has been a hindrance. Thus, our case takes us to Europe’s ancient capital.
As historical background, the last time Italy had a strong, competent national government was roughly 179 AD, after which Marcus Aurelius passed away and emperorship passed to his son Commodus, the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. For 1300 years after the fall of Rome, Italy was largely governed as a smattering of city-states owned by rivaling, illustriously-wealthy families. When Italy became a republic in the 19th century, the private security forces of these wealthy families evolved into the loosely-knit clandestine network referred to as the mafia, serving as liaisons between the Italian elite, the government, and purveyors of various illicit activities. As a result, Italy has long been unique as one of the world’s most prosperous and talented countries, but with a level of corruption more characteristic of a developing nation—a match made in heaven for an organization like the CCP.
In 2013, a new political party formed by comedian Beppe Grillo called the Five Star Movement (M5S) began to rise. Like most of Italy’s political parties, M5S marketed themselves as populist and anti-establishment, but Grillo and M5S had long sought and formed close relations with China. As M5S gained political power, they sold relations with China to the Italian people as a way to foster Italy’s economic independence.
After M5S member Giuseppe Conte became Prime Minister in 2018, the party’s overtures to China reached an apex when Conte gave Xi Jinping a royal welcome and signed onto his Belt and Road initiative, becoming the first major European country to do so.
On March 23, 2019, the same day Conte signed Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, Italy’s Health Minister, M5S member Giulia Grillo, signed a Plan of Action on Health Cooperation between Italy and China, binding Italy to cooperation with China in certain fields including “prevention of infectious diseases.” This plan was a continuation of health cooperation plans between Italy and China first launched in 2000 under former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema. D’Alema had been a longtime member of the Italian Communist Party and was the first known Communist to ever become prime minister of a NATO country. D’Alema now served as honorary president of the Silk Road Cities Alliance, a Chinese state organization, and was a leader of the newly-formed political party Article One (A1).
Giulia Grillo left her post and another A1 member, Roberto Speranza, became Italy’s new Minister of Health in September 2019. Shortly after, in October 2019, Prime Minister Conte paid a visit to the headquarters of Technogenetics, a Chinese-owned company in Italy that developed the initial Covid PCR test swabs which were sent to Wuhan in January 2020.
On November 8, 2019, Health Minister Speranza signed an Implementation Programme of the Plan of Action on Health Cooperation between Italy and China, binding Italy to specific actions in the area of infectious disease control. As is now widely-acknowledged by intelligence sources, the CCP was aware that Covid was spreading by November 8, 2019, but had not yet shared that information with the rest of the world. Among Italy’s commitments to China in the Implementation Programme were the following:
a. Develop and support prevention strategies, policies and actions to counter the following situation: exposure to etiological agents; individual and general population behaviors and attitudes related to the transmission of infections; the low compliance of health professionals with respect to the surveillance of communicable diseases and measures of prevention … and the non-standard behaviors and unserious attitudes of health professionals in care practices regarding risk and infection control.
b. Develop and support epidemiological surveillance, organization for infectious emergencies, communication for the population, training of health workers, the coordination between different institutional levels and various territorial competences during the implementation of prevention interventions, collection of information, systematic monitoring of the quality and the impact of the actions implemented…
f. Carry out cooperation activities like academic exchange, training and manoeuvres on emergency medical rescue and response of major public health emergency, i.e., natural disaster, accident-related disaster, nuclear biochemical emergency, infectious diseases pandemic like influenza.
On November 23, 2019, M5S founder Beppe Grillo—who had no official government position—met with China’s ambassador to Italy and attended a long meeting at the Chinese embassy, the details of which remain unknown.
Prime Minister Conte announced Italy’s first two confirmed Covid cases after a couple of tourists from China tested positive on January 30, 2020; months later, this couple donated $40,000 to the hospital in Rome that treated them. After announcing the two cases, Conte declared a state of emergency, “allowing the government to cut through red tape quickly if needed.”
Hours after Conte confirmed Italy’s first two Covid cases on January 30, 2020, an anonymous stock tipster posted that he or she had “friends and family in the medical industry and field, including at CDC and one close friend at WHO,” and felt guilty not disclosing what they knew:
[T]he WHO is already talking about how “problematic” modeling the Chinese response in Western countries is going to be, and the first country they want to try it out in is Italy. If it begins a large outbreak in a major Italian city they want to work through the Italian authorities and world health organizations to begin locking down Italian cities in a vain attempt to slow down the spread at least until they can develop and distribute vaccines, which btw is where you need to start investing… I just think it’s a really shitty thing to not be sharing this information with the public because they arrogantly think we’re all irrational and shouldn’t be informed as they are.
This tip proved to be a near-perfect foretelling of subsequent events. Shortly after Conte confirmed Italy’s first two cases in Rome, hospitals in the Lombardy region, farther north, under the direction of regional health minister Giulio Gallera, began mass testing both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals for Covid. On February 21, 2020, 15 cases of Covid were detected, and a Chinese-style lockdown of ten towns in Lombardy was immediately announced for 15 days to slow the spread. This lockdown order was officially signed into law by Health Minister Speranza two days later on February 23, 2020—the first lockdown order ever signed in a modern western country.
If that timeline seems blindingly fast, it’s because it is. In fact, not only was the concept of “lockdown” unprecedented in the western world and not part of any western country’s pandemic plan, but the WHO had not even announced its approval of the policy until February 24, 2020, when Bruce Aylward—famous for later disconnecting a live interview when asked to acknowledge Taiwan—reported back about Wuhan’s lockdown from Beijing:
What China has demonstrated is, you have to do this. If you do it, you can save lives and prevent thousands of cases of what is a very difficult disease.
That same day, February 24, 2020, the WHO sent a Covid Joint Mission to Italy. The Joint Mission’s goals were defined as follows:
At this stage the focus is on limiting further human-to-human transmission… It is vital that we…put measures in place to prevent onward transmission… This aligns with the containment strategy currently being implemented globally in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
According to the WHO Joint Mission’s own description, a containment strategy was already “being implemented globally” as of February 24, 2020.
On February 23, 2020, the same day Health Minister Speranza signed the Lombardy lockdown into law, the Italian Ministry of Health issued PCR testing guidance to 31 labs across Italy. The next day, Speranza appointed Walter Ricciardi, former head of the Higher Institute of Health, as liaison between the WHO and Italy to coordinate Italy’s response at a national level, saying “it is essential that there is only one coordination center for emergency management” to eliminate “unilateral choices of individual territories.”
After the PCR testing guidance was issued, large numbers of Covid cases were detected all across Italy. On March 9, 2020, Prime Minster Conte placed all of Italy under a Chinese-style lockdown, with Conte and Speranza co-signing the decree (officially titled the #IStayAtHome Decree)—the first lockdown order of an entire country ever signed in the western world.
Chinese experts arrived in Italy days later and immediately advised stricter lockdown measures. Around that time, Italy was barraged with an unprecedented amount of online disinformation celebrating its lockdown and Chinese-Italian cooperation on Covid. International social media was flooded with grisly stories of lines of coffins and military trucks carrying bodies in Italy, but many of these images—like those that came from Wuhan in the preceding weeks—were subsequently proven fake.
Soon after Conte’s decree, the rest of the world was in lockdown—egged on by an array of influence operations detailed in my book and other writings. This timeline confirms that foretold by the anonymous tipster from January 30, 2020, that the world would soon find itself “modeling the Chinese response in Western countries.”
It will take many years to unravel exactly who did what, and why, in the leadup to Italy’s lockdowns. Unlike the Chinese, the Italians, being in a democratic country, had a strong incentive to cover their tracks. But the picture of what transpired in Italy is starting to come together, and it’s every bit as damning as one might imagine.
Michael P Senger is an attorney and author of Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World.