COVID-19: Worst Global Health Crisis Since Spanish Flu?
It’s too early to know if COVID-19 may become the most serious global health crisis since the 1918 – 20 Spanish Flu epidemic.
The fullness of time will tell what only guesswork is possible now about the disease, but it’s better to be safe than sorry — why it’s crucial for government at all levels to go all-out to treat and contain the disease.
The 1918-20 Spanish Flu (aka La Grippe) pandemic was the most devastating in world history, affecting about one-fifth of the world population, up to 40 million people perishing.
In late December 2018, the American Medical Association Journal reported the following:
“The (year) 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man’s destruction of man…”
“(U)nfortunately (it was) a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings.”
“Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there.”
“Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all — infectious disease.”
Century ago state-of-the-art medicine was unable to effectively treat and contain the infectious influenza outbreak.
It spread worldwide by close encounters of large numbers of WW I military forces, others infected and global trade.
India was especially hard hit by about 50 deaths per 100,000 people. The virus was named Spanish Flu because of early outbreaks in the country.
Close quarters in training, trench warfare, and transport of troops aboard ships likely exacerbated things, though the origin of the disease is unknown.
Outbreaks occurred in military camps throughout the US, beginning in early 1918. No remedial steps at the time led to its spread.
Affecting about one-fourth of the US population at its height, an estimated 675,000 deaths were reported from the disease.
After WW I ended in November 1918, returning soldiers infected with the virus spread it to others.
During the war’s late stages, the disease killed more soldiers on both sides than combat.
Medical providers were overwhelmed. A medical journal at the time said “depletion has been carried to such an extent that the practitioners are brought very near the breaking point.”
The situation was worsened by deaths of physicians from the epidemic.
The Red Cross, medical students, nurses, and volunteers were enlisted to administer to the sick.
Emergency hospital facilities were set up because existing ones weren’t enough to treat overwhelming numbers people in need.
In the US and elsewhere, things resembled or were worse than the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages.
Can what happened before repeat now in the US, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere?
Medical science is far advanced over its early 20th century state. Key in dealing with emergencies is addressing them with all capabilities of the state.
Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and deadly, traditional stimulus measures at times of economic downturns won’t work.
Economist Steven Hamilton called for a government “approach” that’s “as short and sharp as” possible, adding:
COVID-19 is “the worst public health crisis in a century. The world has never faced anything like this.”
“The United States economy is going to need to shut — I mean, shut everything — for two to six weeks.”
In the interim, government needs to fill the void by supplying households with cash as needed to cover expenses and fund small businesses so they can operate.
Hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars by the US government alone may be needed to keep the ship of state afloat until crisis conditions end.
For weeks or months ahead, social distancing is important to prevent spreading disease from one person to others.
They’ve been mass cancellation of sporting and other events nationwide to avoid public gatherings.
Workers not needed on the job are being told to work at home — what’s possible in the digital age that didn’t exist during the Spanish Flu epidemic.
It appears that killing the economy short-term is how to enable its resuscitation when crisis conditions end — however long it may take.
Half-way measures won’t work. All-out efforts are vital no matter the cost — what Trump and Congress haven’t proposed.
Mass social distancing should be mandated, including a travel ban, closed borders, and other steps including quarantines as needed as long as crisis conditions continue.
The year 2020 will likely be long remembered as a time of great duress.
Will responses by US and other governments be remembered as their finest hour — or will history explain too little/too late measures taken in most places, making a bad situation worse by prolonging it?
The fullness of time will tell.
My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”