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  • Of the last five pandemics the world has faced in about a century,

  • four had multiple waves of infection outbreaks.

  • In some cases the second or third waves turned out to be far more severe than the first.

  • As governments around the world weigh the trade-offs between reopening their economies

  • and continuing lockdown restrictions, what can we learn from history?

  • The worst pandemic in modern history, the Spanish flu,

  • which is estimated to have infected a third of the world's population,

  • had three waves of infection.

  • The first wave was in the spring of 1918, while the second wave happened in autumn that year.

  • The third wave occurred a few months later, which lasted till the spring of 1919.

  • You can see the pandemic peaked in the highly fatal second wave,

  • which was responsible for most of the deaths.

  • Many health experts have said that history may repeat itself.

  • The World Health Organization has warned that the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is yet to come.

  • But with widespread unemployment and many companies battling to stay afloat,

  • there are calls to end the social restrictions and reopen the economy.

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also lashed out at government stay at home orders asfascist”.

  • And that's a feeling shared by an increasing number of Americans.

  • You heard Elon Musk's comments. I think that reflects a growing sentiment

  • in this country where people want this to be over.

  • So that is going to tug against what the governors have to do.

  • They have tough decisions to face.

  • However, many analysts have warned against reopening the economy too soon,

  • which may derail current efforts to stem the crisis.

  • The island of Hokkaido in the northern part of Japan

  • was forced back into a lockdown after a second wave hit the region more severely than the first.

  • Singapore, which was lauded for its early efforts to stem the pandemic,

  • also recorded a second wave of infections in March,

  • mainly from imported cases and migrant workers living in packed dormitories.

  • A survey of more than 40 prominent economists in the U.S.

  • found that 80% agreed easing severe lockdown when infection risk remains high

  • would lead to greater economic damage.

  • As the debate over when to reopen the economy drags on,

  • the Spanish flu offers some clues.

  • In 1918, the U.S. had no coordinated pandemic plans at a federal level.

  • It was therefore left to local authorities to decide

  • how and when to intervene to prevent the spread of the disease.

  • The social distancing measures over a century ago are similar to the modern-day restrictions

  • such as the closure of schools, offices and the banning of mass gatherings.

  • Because tackling the infection spread was orchestrated at a local level,

  • the interventions varied widely. This led to the mortality rates

  • and the pace of economic recovery differing from city to city at the end of the pandemic.

  • In 1917, a year before the Spanish flu outbreak, Philadelphia and St. Louis had very similar

  • mortality rates from influenza and pneumonia. However, when the pandemic broke a year later,

  • the two cities had very different approaches to tackling the outbreak.

  • Philadelphia was very late to implement social restrictions

  • and even allowed a large street parade involving some 200,000 people

  • to go ahead in the middle of the outbreak.

  • Three days after the parade, every bed was filled in Philadelphia's 31 hospitals.

  • In contrast, St. Louis officials intervened quickly, resulting in a much lower death rate.

  • The evidence also shows that cities which intervened sooner and more decisively

  • saw their economies grow faster after the pandemic was over.

  • For instance, this graph shows how cities with stricter social distancing measures

  • recovered faster one year after the 1918 pandemic.

  • However, cities in red, with more lenient measures generally performed worse.

  • In cities that implemented social distancing measures quickly and for longer,

  • manufacturing activity and banking assets also saw increased growth a year after the pandemic was over.

  • The evidence suggests that aggressive social distancing measures

  • not only reduced mortality rates but were also economically beneficial.

  • While there are important economic lessons to be learnt from the Spanish flu of 1918,

  • it's difficult to compare that pandemic, which occurred more than a hundred years ago,

  • with the coronavirus pandemic of today. Advances in technology, global supply chains,

  • the larger role of services and better communication tools may ease the economic fallout significantly,

  • which limits direct comparisons between the two pandemics.

  • However, the evidence does imply that decisive social restrictions

  • to reduce the severity of a pandemic plays a key role in the economic recovery process.

  • So how can both livelihoods and lives be saved?

  • While there are no easy answers, revisiting the past offers a glimpse into the future.

  • After all, a healthy economy doesn't happen without a healthy population.

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Of the last five pandemics the world has faced in about a century,


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