In 1918 Spanish influenza ripped through the world killing as many as 100 million people. 100 million people, at a time when the world’s population was far less than it is today. Numbers like that are mind-boggling when compared to what we’re seeing with Coronavirus.
Spanish flu spread so quickly, so efficiently, that it touched just about every corner of the globe.
Just about. I recently read The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (a fascinating and poignant read) which describes how a few places managed to survive Spanish flu without any cases.
A very few — very few — isolated locations around the world, where it was possible to impose a rigid quarantine and where authorities did so ruthlessly, escaped the disease entirely.
With the exception of a few small outposts that isolated themselves, there was by early in 1919 only one place the virus had missed.
Australia had escaped. It had escaped because of stringent quarantine of incoming ships. Some ships arrived there with attack rates as high as 43 percent and fatality rates among all passengers as high as 7 percent. But the quarantine kept the virus out, kept the continent safe…
The author also references a few places inside the United States that escaped with no cases, despite the disease spreading like wildfire throughout the rest of the country. How? By strictly blocking entry to and exit from those locations.
Quarantine was the only way to avoid the pandemic.
Now here we are, a century later, in the midst of another global pandemic. Let’s take a look at two nations' approaches to curtailing it.
First, New Zealand:
- On 3 February 2020, with no reported cases in New Zealand, the country banned entry to any foreigner coming from or via China. Any New Zealander returning from China had to isolate for 14 days.
- As the virus spread globally, the flight ban was extended to other countries, and restrictions placed on anyone arriving from hotspot countries or who was showing symptoms.
- From 16 March 2020, everybody — including New Zealanders — had to go into self-isolation on arrival in the country.
- A few days later, New Zealand closed the borders entirely to almost all non-citizens.
These were the strictest regulations in the world, for which she (Jacinda Adern) would “make no apologies”.
New Zealand’s authorities imposed a rigid quarantine and did so ruthlessly, as per their cross-Tasman neighbours in 1918 (and again in 2020/21), and have emerged largely unscathed.
Now let’s look at what United Kingdom has done.
- On 26 January 2021 — the death toll having already surpassed 100,000 — the UK government meets to discuss imposing 14 day hotel quarantine for those arriving from selected countries.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Yes, New Zealand is a much smaller country. Yes, it is more isolated. Okay, New Zealand had more time to react than the UK. Blah blah blah.
But just look at the way the two countries did react. New Zealand, swift, harsh, but necessary. United Kingdom, bumbling, indecisive, trying to ‘strike a balance’. Look how that turned out.
I know where I’d like to be right now.
Why has it taken so long for the UK government to even talk about imposing strict quarantines at the border? Last year they told us it would be impractical. Now, after 100,000+ deaths it’s worth looking in to? Now, as the South African variant threatens to derail the vaccination rollout?
It’s a year too late. And whoops! The South African variant is here already… missed the opportunity to quarantine that too.
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