Coronavirus: How Spanish Flu proves social distancing can save lives

The coronavirus pandemic has infected nearly a quarter-of-a-million people worldwide and led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people. The UK is now preparing for tougher measures to be put into place after Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that he would “enforce” rules to keep people safe. Many Britons have already started working from home and avoiding social hubs, in a bid to reduce their risk of infection. Despite the struggles many contend with as they adapt to this new way of life – preventative action may be our best hope, according to unearthed accounts. They revealed that people who practiced social distancing during the Spanish Flu stood a better chance of survival – even more so than those in hospitals.

In Britain alone, official figures state that 3,269 people have tested positive for coronavirus – leading to 144 deaths and 65 fortunate enough to recover, as of Friday afternoon.

This estimate is believed to be modest by some who suggest a more accurate number of the infected is closer to 10,000.

Despite the growing concerns about coronavirus and how it is altering modern day life, outbreaks of the past have wreaked more chaos.

Most notably Spanish Flu, which was estimated to have killed around a quarter of the world’s population towards the end of World War 1 – from January 1918 until December 1920. 

The actions of world leaders today appear to show that many lessons have been learned from this previous pandemic – and if history repeats itself, the measures put into place today could save us all.

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Spanish Flu reigned chaos on world populations towards the end of World War 1 – killing 50 million people by official estimates, although other theories suggest the actual figure would have been double. 

According to a 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article, the second wave of Spanish Flu was the deadliest of the three.

It is believed the virus was more potent in that attack wave because conditions “favoured the spread of a deadlier strain”. 

People with “mild cases stayed at home” while battling Spanish Flu – which in hindsight, was believed to have prevented them from catching a stronger form of the virus. 

This approach is almost twinned with social distancing and self-isolation practices being encouraged today for people with and without coronavirus.

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Among those living under quarantine-like conditions are celebrities Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, along with British actor Idris Elba – who have all tested positive for the virus.

But the most concerning conclusion from Spanish Flu pandemic was another revelation that could mean people are at higher risk today.

If parallels can be drawn between Spanish Flu and coronavirus, then hospitals may not be as safe as we think.

During the Spanish Flu outbreak – dubbed one of the deadliest diseases to hit humanity – infected people held in confinement together for treatment or quarantine may be at greater risk.

The report stated: “Those with severe cases were often crowded together in hospitals and camps, increasing transmission of a more lethal form of the virus.”

While it is unlikely that the exact conditions in those facilities during the Spanish Flu are mirrored today – it does raise concern. 

Despite this, modern society does benefit from greater advancements that have been made in medicine and technology – along with a better understanding of viruses. 

What these historical accounts do teach us for certain is that social distancing and self-isolation may very well be in our best interests.

And despite the difficult adjustments to form new routines, it may just be the safest thing for our society and the human race as a whole.  

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