Since the end of last year, the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has spread across the world leading to more than 89,000 people globally developing a disease known as COVID-19, with over 3,000 people dying from it.
Over the last few weeks, the number of cases in Italy has soared – at time of writing nearly 1,700 cases have been reported and 34 people have died – although it is believed that the virus had been circulating since mid-January and was masked in most cases by having similar symptoms to the seasonal flu. Researchers at the Luigi Sacco Hospital have managed to successfully isolate the Italian strain of SARS-CoV-2, but it has shocked people to find out that most of the research team that managed this feat is made up of temporary workers on a low wage.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports how temps Dr Alessia Lai, Dr Annalisa Bergna, and Dr Arianna Gabrieli, alongside their polish colleague Dr Maciej Tarkowski, also a temp, have worked for more than 10 hours a day in full hazmat suits to achieve the crucial step of isolating the virus.
To be clear, this does not mean isolating people who are infected with COVID-19, it means obtaining a pure viral sample from people infected with the strain present in Italy, in this case from patients in Codogno in the north of the country, and not the strain from China. Virus isolation, in this case, was possible by allowing a sample of mucus taken from one of the patients suffering from COVID-19 to infect monkey kidney cells in the lab. Four hours later, the virus was already visible under a microscope, and it was confirmed after 24 and 48 hours. This allowed for the genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2.
By isolating the Italian strain of the virus, researchers can compare and contrast against the genome of the original SARS-CoV-2. This allows scientists to establish if and how the virus is changing and also how quickly it might have mutated. This is vital to understand how and when the virus got to Italy and how it spreads and changes. It's also a key initial step in the production of an effective vaccine.
To employ skilled doctors to use their expertise to work on something so crucial, for long hours, and under immense pressure without job security or a decent wage has had people calling out the European nation, though.
“None of us earns more than 1,200 euros per month,” revealed Gabrieli after being asked by La Repubblica’s Tiziana de Giorgio. “It is difficult to not have certainties, worrying about bills, rent without any stability," she added, "but, right now, I feel such joy I struggle to put it into words.”
This wage is roughly US $1,330, just above the monthly national minimum wage in the US in 2020. Although many people have been surprised to find doctors in this situation, it is not exclusive to either Italy or scientific research. In almost every single industry in most developed nations, wage growth has not kept up with inflation and the rising costs of housing, education, and health care, while jobs have become less stable, which is why "Millenials" – those born between 1980 and 2000 – really are worse off than their parents' generation.
[H/T: La Repubblica]