A Tale of 3 Pandemics

At first, the gravity of the epidemic was seriously underestimated. Journalists were surprisingly disinterested. Le Figaro pointed out that its progress appeared to be “stationnaire.” Le Monde felt that the problem was neither new nor serious, and “paraît régresser en France.”

But hospitals were soon under pressure. In no time public transport was disrupted. Trains and buses stayed in their sheds as drivers and ticket inspectors went off sick. Schools closed. So did shops. And people took to wearing masks.

 Oh dear, not another dreary article on Covid 19?

No! This one’s actually about the light at the end of the tunnel.

1. Pandemics: Hong Kong Flu—1968, 1969 – 1970

Tale of 3 Pandemics - MyFrenchLife.org

Quickly dubbed Hong Kong flu, the 1968 epidemic was first seen in the Far East where, like Trump’s China Virus, it was sometimes called Mao’s virus.

The illness quickly attached itself to travellers and followed them around the world. The virus arrived in Europe and peaked in the winter of 1969/1970.

Once established, it soon became obvious that it was far more serious than the annual outbreak of winter flu. Hospitals were under real pressure as the death rate took off. In France, a doctor at a hospital in Lyon described whole wards of patients with lips turning blue. The situation became “dramatique” as increasing numbers died of “lung problems.” Bodies piled up and were stored wherever there was space. It affected all ages. But in those days, the death of people over sixty-five was more socially accepted — it was even considered “naturelle.”   

A Tale of 3 Pandemics - Hong Kong Flu MyFrenchLife.org

In 1968, the word ‘pandemic’ was virtually unknown. And there was no social media to fuel the desire for incessant information. Journalists were focused on writing headlines on other matters.

  • In France alone, where 35,000 died in two months, the headlines were about social upheaval and the student riots in Paris.
  • In America, United States health authorities estimated that between 34,000 and 100,000 people died. But the press was writing about the NASA moonshot.
  • In Britain, flu deaths reached 30,000 but the papers were more interested in the sale of London Bridge to an American entrepreneur.
  • In Australia, Prime Minister Holt’s disappearance while swimming off Portsea— and his possible abduction by a Chinese submarine
  • All this — kept the media focus off Mao’s Flu.

2. Pandemics: Spanish Flu—1918-1920

The world’s most serious pandemic erupted as the guns went quiet on the Western Front. Quickly labelled Spanish Flu (because there was no wartime censorship in Spain to prevent newspapers from describing the crisis) it is estimated to have killed between 17 and 50 million. Some estimates go as high as 100 million.

Spanish Flu - a Tale of 3 pandemics - MyFrenchLife.org

The contagion travelled well. It joined soldiers from all over the world as they returned home from the bloodletting after the First World War.

  • Social distancing measures were introduced.
  • Schools, theatres, and places of worship were closed and public transport was limited.
  • And now for the déjà vu. It was soon realised that banning mass gatherings and requiring face masks to be worn cut the death rate by up to 50 percent. But this was dependent on the regulations being imposed early and not lifting them prematurely.

3. Pandemics: Covid-19—2020-2021

To end, is there an end in sight?

 Yes there is!

Controlling the virus and getting everyone back to normal is (more or less) within the world’s grasp. All it requires is the cooperation of world leaders and the commitment of the people they represent. The international scientific community has already made stunning and unprecedented advances in the development and rollout of safe vaccines offering high levels of protection. Containment strategies and education programs must now become universal. People must be helped to separate ‘the science’ from ‘mumbo jumbo’. A means needs to be found to weed out misleading and false information on social media.            

Easy to say—more difficult to achieve.

But let’s hope that everyone—yes, everyone—will find the will, strength, and determination and rise to the occasion. Because no one is safe until everyone is safe. Soyez courageux, bonne chance, et surtout, bonne santé!

How aware are you or were you about the previous Pandemics? With Vaccinations being distributed currently let’s all hope for light at the end of this Pandemic tunnel.

Image credits:
1. Memorial 1918 Spanish Flu – New Zealand via Wikipedia
2. Spanish Flu – Seattle cops in 1918 wearing masks via wikipedia
3. Alberta Poster of Spanish Flu via Wikipedia
4. People queuing to buy masks in San Francisco in 1918 via wikipedia
5. Face Mask production in china – via Wikipedia
6. Coronavirus – children wearing mask via wikipedia

About the Contributor

Ray Johnstone

Ray is an artist & writer. His favourite subjects are nudes and portraits. Art holidays for groups & families are catered for in their 800-year-old house La Petite Galerie in Gascony. They also take up to 6 walkers on the 'best bits' of the Pilgrims Route to Compostela. Check out Ray's 100+ articles - he has his own column called 'Perspectives'

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