By Yuri Behari-Leak
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.
Whether apocalyptic like the Black Death or seemingly perpetual like HIV/AIDS, pandemics have always plagued humanity (literally). As we globally face the Covid-19 threat, we can preserve our future by reflecting on and learning from our past battles with previous pandemics.
First detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and originating from viral animal mutations, the extremely contagious Covid-19 has now rapidly spread worldwide infecting over 2.4 million people and killing approximately 170 000 (21/04/2020). Anyone can unknowingly spread it through coughing, sneezing or touching infected surfaces, but the elderly and immuno-compromised are most vulnerable. The USA, Italy and Spain suffer the most with over a million cases between them.
How does Covid-19 compare to past pandemics? Regarded as one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, Spanish Flu (1918-1920) infected 500 million people, killing an estimated 50-100 million. The virus was a unique influenza strain (H1N1) inexplicably affecting young, healthy adults most severely. The pandemic subsided due to the widespread death and acquired immunity. More recently, Swine Flu (2009-2010) emerged from an unholy genetic cocktail of bird flu, human and Eurasian pig viruses. First detected in Mexico and North America, the virus spread quickly infecting 700 million – 1.4 billion people killing 284 000. The virus subsided due to a developed vaccine, social distancing and self-isolation measures.
“We cannot pretend life is normal under threat of a massive pandemic.”
While it’s highly unlikely we will reach astronomical Spanish-Flu-numbers, the 1918 pandemic taught us to expect the unexpected and be ready for the worst. We cannot pretend life is normal under threat of a massive pandemic. Swine Flu importantly taught us to improve sanitation, hygiene, and health science while suggesting that vaccine development is imperative. Both pandemics lasted 1-2 years. Will Covid-19 also have a two-year lifespan: 2020-2022? That depends on how we are responding now.
“As we globally face the Covid-19 threat, we can preserve our future by reflecting on and learning from our past battles with previous pandemics.”
National lockdowns and closures of schools, universities, public places and non-essential services have been imposed worldwide to curb the virus’s spread. Countries like South Africa, Taiwan and Singapore reacted early and effectively and consequently have been faring better than other countries who reacted late. It appears the lockdowns are slowing infection rates, but they have enormously impacted countries’ economic, political and socio-economic climates. The International Monetary Fund predicted that the global economy will face a 3% reduction – the largest since the Great Depression. South Africa’s now extended 35-day lockdown has greatly wounded our economy and people through small businesses and non-essential service closures. However, hope remains as South Africans unite to support one another during this tumultuous time.
“We must stay united, hopeful, and prudent, learning from our past and embracing our new emerging future. Life will never be the same after Covid-19, but we will adapt and thrive once more.”
Humanity has and will always be faced with pandemics. But we control the outcome: one where millions perished because of poor understanding and patience, and another where millions were saved due to robust preventative measures. A vaccine may be humanity’s greatest hope for conquering Covid-19, but one may not be developed for a year! Meanwhile, we must stay united, hopeful, and prudent, learning from our past and embracing our new future. Life will never be the same after Covid-19, but we will adapt and thrive once more.