Where we're Headed
In the short-term things are unlikely to get better. Masks and social distancing will be with us for a while yet. Even at 90% vaccination, without precautions we would overload our hospitals. It may be a rough journey to normality, but normality will come.
However, we’ve been there before. In 1918 our troops returning from Europe had an unwanted stow away; the Spanish Flu. Just like Covid, the Spanish flu started mild, but mutated to become more virulent.
The mild flu appeared in New Zealand when the passenger liner Niagara berthed in Auckland on 12 October 1918, bringing Prime Minister Massey back from a war conference. There were several cases of mild flu on board, but nothing unusual, so no precautions were taken. That same week two large troop ships also arrived in Auckland, carrying sick and wounded soldiers from camps in Southern England heavily affected by flu. The returning soldiers scattered home across New Zealand and this was the most likely cause of the spread of the disease. During November, super spreader events were held throughout the country as communities held celebrations to mark the end of ‘the war to end all wars’ (sic). After that the epidemic exploded.
The mild strain turned out to be a blessing because it imparted resistance to the far more aggressive strain that followed. Back in 1918 similar counter measures were taken as in 2020, but rather than coming from the government, in Nelson initiative was taken by a ‘Citizen's Vigilance Committee’ Shops and pubs were closed. Those with the flu were forced to isolate at home. Masks were recommended for volunteers, but not enforced. The A&P show was postponed.
The flu epidemic was short and sharp. It spread fast, and peaked fast (a matter of months) but left 32 dead in Nelson/Tasman. The reason for it’s rapid rise and fall was that all those infected became either immune or dead. We got off lightly, probably due to the good fortune of the mild strain arriving with enough of a head start to inoculate much of the population by the time the more virulent strain arrived. Nelson’s death rate was 3.3 per thousand. The rate for New Zealand was 6 per thousand.
The Spanish flu infected about one third of the worlds population resulting in between twenty and fifty million deaths. In New Zealand it killed 9000 people.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we forget. Before the recent heightened interest in pandemics, only a minuscule percentage of the population were aware that not-that-long-ago the world experienced a pandemic that killed many more people than world war one, though not as many as died in world war two.
Now let’s fast forward to 2021 and consider what’s in store. The unsavoury characteristic of Covid 19 is that it can be spread by symptomless carriers over a number of days, while the Spanish Flu was fast and obvious.
The good news is that we have tools in our kit to protect against and treat Covid 19 or the likes, that we didn’t have in 1918.
Worldwide there have been roughly five million Covid related deaths. Twenty-eight of those have been in New Zealand. This pandemic is dragging on longer but has been nowhere near as deadly as the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Before you know it, we’ll go back to not thinking about it so much, and eventually forgetting it.
Vaccination and boosters will become routine. Masks will become rare, and we’ll just take our chances that we might pick up a bug.
UNTIL THE NEXT ONE COMES ALONG.
Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it.