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Is history repeating itself with the current pandemic?

History is often a cycle. As the centuries pass, history fades from human memory. Thus, we either learn from our ancestors’ mistakes and failings, or we will be bound to repeat them ourselves in the future. However, even though humanity has witnessed hundreds of pandemics and plagues before, it still struggles to find a competent solution for the current pandemic crisis.

The Spanish flu pandemic in 1918

Researchers are comparing the recent pandemic with Spanish influenza that spread rapidly during 1918.  Though separated by more than a century, the events of both pandemics seem to parallel each other, albeit in different timelines.

A newly introduced virus with major adverse effects on the human lungs was the cause of both pandemics. Moreover, both of them spread in the same manner; via nasal and mouth droplets. Thus, the procedure for minimizing the threat was somehow the same. In both cases, gatherings in public places were prohibited. Moreover, the government provided “sanitary regulations” for the civilians and recommended wearing facial masks.

The masses’ response to the crisis is parallel to the one we are witnessing today. Measures to stop hoarding food supplies were installed in both pandemics. Also, people considered quarantine as a drastic measure. However, World War I played a vital role in diminishing public gatherings and the overall response and outcome of the pandemic of that era. The spread of antiquated and unproductive stigmatization and propaganda were also some results of both pandemics. The same conspiracy theories and irrational blaming took place during world war 1. Moreover, racism prevailed against the Spanish people because of the flu’s origin.

It took almost two years for Spanish influenza to finally run its course. In the end, the infected people either died or developed an immunity. On the other hand, this pandemic left a legacy of other influenza viruses. They manifested in 1957, 1968, and 2009 as influenzas considered the descendants of the H1N1 virus that caused the 1918 pandemic.

H1N1 swine flu in 2009

The world is witnessing many repeated patterns between the swine flu spread in 2009 and the current pandemic. Both diseases spread rapidly in communities of color, minorities, and poor countries. Furthermore, even though the diseases don’t differentiate between people, in both cases those with most wealth and privilege are the ones who will most definitely survive the crisis. With health disparities between nations and inside the same country, 

Even a century later, people’s response to both crises is somehow similar. Instead of relying on vaccines to save them from it, in 2009 nearly half of the Americans surveyed population voted on “not likely to get vaccinated” despite the risk. Similarly, the Ipsos poll that took place on Feb 14, showed that fewer than half of people surveyed would take a vaccine if one were available.

During both crises, people started losing faith in the way governments are treating the issue. However, many were also not keen on adapting for the sake of stopping the disease’s spread. In 2009, Nine in 10 Americans said they would not change their holiday travel plans due to H1N1 flu in a national Ipsos survey for Mondial Assistance. The world witnessed the same behavior during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natural disasters

Whenever people face a  crisis, whether it is a disease or a normal natural disaster, most people turn into selfish creatures. They start shopping to stock up and hoard items which end up creating a shortage in almost everything. Everyone is out for themselves instead of uniting in the face of disaster.

Key differences between the previous crises and the current pandemic

It should be emphasized that there are several significant differences between the two pandemics and also between any other crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

First of all, COVID-19 is not influenza.  It is like a chronic acute pneumonia. Even though they are both caused by novel viruses, they are different types of viruses with different methods of action and infectiousness.

Moreover, despite many claims that the global response wasn’t enough, many lives are being saved due to global collaborations. Laws are issued to minimize the spread and many researchers from all over the world are working on a treatment. Furthermore, people learned past mistakes and are being transparent about the disease, its impacts, and its statistics.

Lastly, the world now has better technology and medical knowledge than before. This makes us better equipped to fight the epidemic than any of the preceding generations.

All in all, history doesn’t exactly repeat itself. Instead, patterns of the previous events rhyme with the current ones, giving humanity a chance to learn from their ancestor’s mistakes.


‘History repeating:’ WI historians see strong parallels between COVID-19, the influenza pandemic of 1918. (2020, May 4). Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://fox6now.com/2020/05/03/history-repeating-wisconsin-historians-see-strong-parallels-between-covid-19-influenza-pandemic-of-1918/Contributed. (2020, April 22). OPINION: The COVID-19 pandemic — Is history repeating itself?: The Guardian. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/opinion/local-perspectives/opinion-the-covid-19-pandemic-is-history-repeating-itself-440801/Fussell, S. (n.d.). The H1N1 Crisis Predicted Covid-19’s Toll on Black Americans. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.wired.com/story/h1n1-crisis-predicted-covid-19-toll-black-americans/History.com Editors. (2010, October 12). Spanish Flu. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/1918-flu-pandemicJennifer, Forgione, P., Kesselring, J., Hernandez, E., & Noori, E. (2020, April 23). From the ‘Spanish Flu’ to COVID-19: lessons from the 1918 pandemic and First World War. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://blogs.icrc.org/law-and-policy/2020/04/23/spanish-flu-covid-19-1918-pandemic-first-world-war/MacArthur, K. (2020, May 15). COVID-19 is unique but history repeats itself in crises. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://future.ipsos.com/citizen/covid-19-is-unique-but-history-repeats-itself-in-crisesTerry, M. (2020, April 2). Compare: 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic Versus COVID-19. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.biospace.com/article/compare-1918-spanish-influenza-pandemic-versus-covid-19/

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