As a physician with forty years of practice in Nova Scotia I have never experienced a pandemic of this extent. However it is not a new phenomenon. From the biblical plagues of Egypt, the Black Death (bubonic plague which killed half of Europe in the 14th century) to cholera outbreaks, they have always been with us. The Spanish flu (H1N1) killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people during 1918-1919 and affected 500 million people, one-quarter of the world’s population at that time. Unlike Covid-19, it targeted the young and the healthy.
Within living memory, however, there have been similar episodes, more particularly the Asian flu of 1957 (H2N2) and Hong Kong flu of 1968 (H3N2). Millions died from these global pandemics but since the development of effective vaccines we have been tenuously able to avoid more recent strains from decimating the population (this despite the idiots that refuse to get themselves vaccinated or even worse, their own children).
As I write this, Nova Scotia’s premier has declared a state of emergency. Nobody is allowed out except for brief walks or to fetch groceries or medication. Essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and medical facilities remain open. So do the provincial liquor stores which, given the VE Day riots in Halifax after the stores were closed at the end of the Second World War, probably makes sense.
Businesses not respecting these laws can be fined up to $100,000 and individuals $1000. I am a little more mobile, being a physician. I can drive to and from work and expose myself to Covid-19 as do many of my associates in the health professions, fire departments and law enforcement. Being almost 65 I am one of those who could very well end up in an ICU or dead if I catch this. I worry for my wife but nobody else lives with us and I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this medicine gig.
My heart really goes out to those workers with young children (who thankfully seem very resistant to the virus if otherwise well) and my heart goes out to those front line workers who live with elderly parents. They don’t have the privilege of staying home and avoiding bringing the Coronavirus to loved ones.
My point is that being able to stay home is a privilege. Take advantage of it, wash your hands, keep your distance, listen to the advice of health care professionals (which I am not going to repeat here as it is widely available).
Let’s take inspiration from the stoic and sportsmanlike behavior of the NHL teams of the 1919 Stanley Cup. Montreal called off the series just prior to game six as five members of their line-up, Lalonde, Hall, Coutu, Berlinguette and McDonald were gravely ill and hospitalized. Montreal Manager George Kennedy offered to forfeit the series to the Seattle team. Seattle’s manager, Pete Muldoon, a superb sportsman, refused stating he wouldn’t accept a victory based on serious illness in the opposing team (though several of his players were also very ill).
Montreal’s Joe Hall died shortly afterwards from the Spanish Flu and manager George Kennedy died a year later from complications of his infection.
Spanish flu targeted young and healthy people. There were no vaccines, no antibiotics and very little in the way of oxygen or respirators for the seriously ill.
Covid-19 will pass and hopefully by the next bout we will have a vaccine. There is infrastructure in place to protect people and treat them which was not even dreamt of a hundred years ago. Young people can get sick but are not the major target as was the case a century ago with the Spanish flu (H1N1). Also, viruses tend to mutate to milder forms because the ones that kill off their hosts tend not to reproduce themselves as efficiently.
Take heart that there have been worse contagious diseases than this one from which Canadians have gotten up, brushed themselves off and gone on with their lives. Take inspiration from our hockey players of a century ago and we will successfully combat this virus. Stay healthy and stay indoors and wash your hands.
Photo is Wikimedia public domain