Perfect Storm

  • The nCoV outbreak has gotten some social media attention with posts, comments, memes, and counter-memes.
  • One of the memes asserts pandemics cycled through the years 1620, 1720, 1820, 1920 and 2020. While there may be some shoehorning (in the old days, there was an epidemic in just about every decade somewhere), the meme does serve to shed some light on the history of pandemics, which we touch on briefly below, skipping 1620 (not much specific info available) and 2020.

1720 Marseille 1
  • This was a bubonic plague, a flu-like disease, that hit the port of Marseille, via inbound ships and crew. To fight the plague, Marseille set up a powerful sanitisation board to conduct ship inspections, quarantines and city sanitisation.
  • Provence enacted an Act of Parliament to build a wall around Marseille to quarantine it. Like building hospitals quickly, civil engineering came to the fore.

1820 Calcutta 2
  • This was a water borne disease, cholera, that had its source in rivers and was vectored by travellers and pilgrims who visited and bathed at the rivers.
  • Just when matters were getting tough, mother nature came to to the rescue: an extra cold winter in 1824 froze water, perished the bacteria and stopped the outbreak.

1920 Europe 3
  • The 'Spanish Flu' was a 1918-1920 flu pandemic. It is hypothesised to have originated from the battlefields of WWI where field hospitals, patients and live farm animals destined for food were in close vicinity due to the exigencies of war.
  • The flu came in two waves. The first wave was mild. The second wave, via a mutated virus, was the one that did immense damage.

Miscellaneous Notes
  • A perfect storm is when two or more emergencies collide. Eg, in AU, the forest fires are flaring up again. If nCoV breaks out while people are being evacuated and huddled together, it will be doubly tough. That's possibly why AU is sending at-risk folks to Christmas Island [post image]. Similarly, ID is sending the same to the Natuna Islands. With the dry season coming, water shortage could become an added risk factor. 4 5 6
  • In UK, GPs are advised by the government, on suspecting a patient in the GP's office to be nCoV positive, to quickly leave the room and shut the door behind (and then call health authorities). This may seem comical but in fact highlights the risks front liners (docs, nurses, drivers) could potentially face. 7
  • Scary stuff? Maybe not. Perhaps a chance to take a break from the daily grind and routine to reassess health, preparedness, contingency and existentialism.