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Published by jack elliot

It’s worth considering that the 1918 pandemic could be clearly identified as an event in itself compared to other outbreaks of very serious disease. A hundred years on, the West has developed healthcare systems and an arsenal of therapies, starting with vaccination programmes. Therefore, a disease which has a higher mortality rate stands out far more than it would have in 1918 when—besides the ending of a major world war—people routinely contended with deadly outbreaks of childhood infectious illnesses such as measles, diphtheria and polio. Contemporaries did not write about the Spanish ‘flu for the same reason that they did not write about the other epidemics harvesting the young. In our times, too, many of us know someone who has died of COVID-19, but it has taken careful tracking and testing, as well as significant change to our daily lives, to make the pandemic a recognisable social event. It was no big shift from vast insanitary field hospitals to vast insanitary makeshift ‘flu wards, from government rationing because ‘there’s a war on’ to government imposed quarantines in 1918. For most of us today, the really noticeable signs of a pandemic are the restrictions on freedom to consume and move—but these were normalised by the Great War. After decades of comfort and consumerism, we have little idea of how to cope with privation, shortage and centralised restrictions on movement and entertainment. So it’s hardly surprising that the writers of 1918 did not particularly remark on the ‘flu as compared to the myriad other things going on.

For us, of course, this is a dry run for Brexit. So we’ll have to get used to it.

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