Portrait of Sir James Douglas courtesy of “The Afro News” dated January 8th, 2015.
The word PANDEMIC sends shivers down everyone’s spine so I’ve started today’s blog with an adorable picture of little girls in pink carrying on with their ballet lessons during frightening times such as the SARS epidemic in the early 2000’s.
There have certainly been many plagues, epidemics and pandemics around the world during the past 2,000 years. Here are just a few I discovered and researched:
165 AD – The Antonine Plague which killed five million people in Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece and Italy.
541-542 – Plague of Justinian which killed 25 million, half the population of Europe.
1346-1353 – The Black Death (or Bubonic Plague) which ravaged Europe, Africa and Asia.
1665-1666 – The Great Plague of London which killed an estimated 100,000 people – a quarter of London’s population.
1852-1860 – Third Cholera Pandemic which originated in India and killed one million people.
1889-1890 – Flu pandemic which killed one million people (originally called “Asiatic Flu” or “Russian Flu.”) First cases were observed in Central Asia and Athabasca in Northwestern Canada and in Greenland. Later flu epidemics coined phrases such as “swine” flu or “bird” flu.
1910-1911 – Sixth Cholera pandemic killed 800,000+ spreading throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia.
1918-1920 – Flu pandemic which spread around the entire world and killed 20-50 million people.
1956-1958 – Asian flu which originated in China and traveled to Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States.
1966-1972 – HIV/AIDS which originated in Africa and is prevalent among young adults (15-49). Infection rates still as high as 25% in southern and eastern Africa.
2000-2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) which originated in Southern China and spread to over 8,000 people killing 800.
2019 – ? – Coronavirus (COVID-19) First identified in Wuhan, Hubei, China in December 2019. By April 2020, it is said to have spread to more than 190 countries with major outbreaks in the United States, Central China, Italy, Spain, South Korea and Iran. On March 11 2020, the World Health Organization characterized the spread of COVID-19 as a pandemic.
These are indeed frightening statistics! But remember, if you are here today all your ancestors survived those epidemics and pandemics.
My own home town of Victoria, British Columbia, suffered a major epidemic of smallpox in the year 1862 in which First Nations people perished in large numbers with 60 to 70% death rates.
It happened this way. In the spring of 1862 smallpox was already prevalent in San Francisco and because there was a great deal of shipping activity between Victoria and San Francisco, it was only a matter of time before it spread north. On March 18 the Daily British Colonist reported the first case in Victoria and by the 26th there were two new cases, one having arrived aboard the Oregon and the other on the Brother Jonathan, both from San Francisco.
Smallpox was—and still is despite modern medical science and no active cases for over twenty years—a dreaded and horrible disease. The 1862 epidemic was an especially virulent form of the disease and there was widespread panic among the white population.
First Nations people who suffered the most were already living in various encampments (reserves) in the vicinity of the Fort—on the Songhees Reserve, on a James Bay beach and at Ogden Point near the entrance to the harbor.
Governor James Douglas had three available options to him in order to help the citizens of Victoria. 1. Vaccination or Inoculation. 2. Isolation or 3. Expulsion. For the First Nations people he chose isolation and eventually expulsion to northern parts of the province—which solved nothing and simply spread the disease. He also quarantined ships. SO, even in 1862, it would appear that the best way to stop the disease was a form of social distancing—but staying in place!
The protagonist in my forthcoming novel Providence, arrives in Victoria in September of 1862 and a month later has an unpleasant encounter with some First Nations smallpox sufferers on the Songhees reserve. There were still few safety precautions in place to counteract the virulent disease.
All these statistics are definitely alarming and always provoke fear and panic. However, we must remember that this latest pandemic is nothing new and will be eradicated—if we follow the protocol.
And, hard as it may seem to believe right now, there are also a few good things coming out of this current pandemic. In social isolation we are discovering new skills and re-discovering old ones. We are communicating in new ways. People are showing love and care to seniors, their neighbors and their work colleagues. We have numerous heroes—doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes, workers in grocery stores and pharmacies—and the list goes on. The depth of the human spirit around the world is becoming prevalent once again.
And while we are “flattening the curve” by driving our cars and flying in ‘planes less as well as not congregating anywhere in large numbers, we may also be solving another world crisis—global warming. Who knows?
"When she was well into her sixties, Alice Ivers Tubbs proclaimed that she would rather play poker with five or six experts than eat. “And at my age, I probably should be at home knitting, but this is much more fun,” she added."
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