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ZYTARUK: Spanish flu offers good lesson in re-opening during pandemic

Governments are under immense pressure to ease restrictions, considering their inability to control the crowd that's already liberated itself from the ravages of common sense

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So let it be written…

A little more than a century ago, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 killed more than 50 million people.

So what did we learn?

They say history tends to repeat itself, witnessed by the playing out of a 100-year cycle that saw a bubonic plague in Europe in 1720, cholera smite Asia in 1820, the Spanish Flu, and of course our present-day pandemic.

George Bernard Shaw instructs us that “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”

Personally, I prefer Stephen Hawking’s take on it: “We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.”

There’s been evidence aplenty, during this our go-around, of foolhardy behaviour on our beaches, in grocery store aisles, along sidewalks, in parks, you name it. Masses of people recklessly thumbing their noses at social distancing and invading other people’s space.

Too many people simply lack the patience to stay put. They’re bored with the pandemic, are moving on, and as a result of their negligence more people will be doomed to suffer from COVID-19, and more will die.

So what happened in 1918?

People were human, that’s what.

In San Francisco, they thought they had the Spanish Flu licked. Driven, no doubt, by impatience, public pressure and economic necessity, the politicians prematurely re-opened the city for business. They celebrated its return to normality with a grand parade which resulted in the deadly flu returning with a vengeance.

Beware, the second wave.

Today there’s immense pressure on governments to ease restrictions, considering they are unable to control the crowd that’s already liberated itself from the ravages of common sense.

And when government starts talking about easing up, and returning to some semblance of normal, yet more people see that as a green light to drop their guard. People are waiting for a sign, and champing at the bit.

There’s no denying the fierce economic imperative to re-start the engine. Our catch-22 is staying healthy in the process.

Dr. Stewart Prest, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, says there seems to be a “broad understanding” in Canada that opening up too much, too quickly, could really make things worse in the long run.

That some jurisdictions have chosen to open up while the first wave is still cresting, he says, “seems terrifying, to be honest.

“I’m not an epidemiologist, I don’t know if you can fully prevent a second wave,” Prest says.

“There are important lessons from history, and I think it’s fascinating that some jurisdictions seem to be better able to take those on board than others.”

So let it be done.

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Tom Zytaruk is a staff writer with the Now-Leader. You can email him at tom.zytaruk@surrey nowleader.com.

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