And then came Covid 19 in 2019…
Like the Plague, Covid19 is also a world pandemic whose origins and exact nature are currently under debate. The point the students made in this exhibit is that despite their similarities and having several precedents (Black plaque, Spanish flu), which should have given us a chance at controlling the spread of today's global killer, the world was ill prepared for the coronavirus. Panic, misinformation and scapegoating ensued.
From research findings we now know that the black death was caused by a bacillus called Yersinia pestis (discovered by Alexandre Yersin, French Biologist in the 19th century). It was no magic that it caused so many deaths as it attacked the host’s lymphatic system which then spread into the blood and other vital organs causing death if left untreated.
It is true that COVID-19 is very different from the 14th-century plague, but it is easy to see some similarities even just by taking a surface look.
Comparing the black plague and the coronavirus may seem far-fetched or inappropriate given the differences in the periods in which they occurred and the technological advancements hence. But when we look closely, we see that the responses were much alike. The society searched for answers and fingers were pointed at possible causes. It’s apparent that the progress made by science has not done much to change our reactions to unexplained and overwhelming world pandemics.
The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by propaganda, misinformation and fake news. People from China, Japan and Korea have been the target of racist acts in the US and elsewhere, their restaurants and businesses have been boycotted as though they individually caused the virus, they have been the target of online vitriol, six 5G masts have been burned down in locations ranging from Birmingham to Belfast because of the theory that the virus is man-made and was created in a laboratory in Wuhan. Other theories propagate the claims that Asians are set on reducing the world’s population or that Bill Gates is using the coronavirus as a means to enforce vaccination in Africa and Asia, in order to enslave humanity. In the face of something that they cannot control, humans beings resort to easy "the answer/solution" and latch on to the concept of blame. In summary, in both pandemics, existing prejudices and racial bias are often leveraged by dominant and influential countries to single out other groups, whether human or animal or concept that can be scapegoated. These groups them become the target of anger and of hatred.
Alternatively called the Black Death, the Pestilence, the Great Mortality or simply the Plague, this epidemic swept through Afro-Eurasia in the Middle ages (from 1346 to 1353) ravaging populations through three types of plague: septicaemic, bubonic, and pneumonic. By the mid 1350’s, it had claimed one in three lives from India to Iceland (Tuchman 1978; Ziegler 1969) resulting in the death of 75–200 million people. While its origin is disputed, its appearance appears to have been in Crimea in 1347 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death).
This pestilence was so virulent it rapidly spread from one person to another; its “malignity …appeared more terrible because its victims knew no prevention and no remedy” (Tuchman, 1978). What made the black plague so deadly was that no one knew the procedure for treating it and worse still, how to prevent it. Physicians tried bloodletting, boil lancing, sitting patients next to blazing fires or even completely immersing them in essential oils, all to no avail.
Crisis, wars and pandemics breed fear. In response to fear, human beings look for possible explanations both rational and irrational. Hence, conspiracy theories arise because those vulnerable easily accept any explanation, whether scientifically proven or not, just to hold on to something tangible and find a scapegoat. With the bubonic plague, not too long after the ships arrived and the death toll started to rise, the population searched for answers.
Doctors, without the proper research, tools or ideas were running out of options. People decided to turn to several “possible” solutions to their problems.
Rats? Ridding the town of them could help reduce the spread.
Jews? because of their differences from everyone else, they were suspected of poisoning the remainder of the population so they were killed (see for instance the burning of twenty thousand Jews in Strasbourg in 1348).
An Act of God? At some point, with the belief that the plague was God’s punishment, people took to publicly flogging themselves(flagellants) so as to atone for their sins.