Are you aware that, just over 100 years ago in 1918 until 1920, Australia and most of the rest of the planet was suffering from the worst pandemic in human history when the so-called “Spanish Flu” flew around the world.

Whilst it is commonly called the “Spanish Flu” it did not originate in Spain. The name came about as the Spanish King at the time (King Alfonso XIII) was gravely ill and died from the flu and this was reported in newspapers around the world at the time. There are various suggestions or claims of where the flu originated including a British Army encampment located in France and also a piggery situated in Kansas, USA then being taken to Europe by an American soldier who had a mild case of the flu which mutated into a stronger virus. One thing that is generally agreed upon is that it originated in 1918 during the dying days of Word War 1 and its spread around the world is attributed to troops returning to their homelands after the war in Europe. As well as the King of Spain succumbing to the flu so did the Brazilian President, Rodriguez Alves. Estimates of the number of people who died worldwide have varied over the decades with an estimate in 2018 of 17 million. Earlier estimates had been much higher with as many as 100 million and as few as 50 million (estimate 2005) so I guess we will never know what the figures were.

In Australia between 12000 and 15000 people died as a consequence of “Spanish Flu” out of a population of around 5 million. Surprisingly there were some areas or territories around the globe that did not suffer any casualties from the strain. New Caledonia was one such territory because they enforced a strict quarantine regime as did also American Samoa.

The outbreak of “Spanish Flu” almost had the effect of breaking up the newly created nation of Australia. The first case of the flu was a soldier who had returned from the war to Melbourne and had then travelled to Sydney. It was in Sydney that he was diagnosed with “Spanish Flu” and the NSW authorities blamed Victorian authorities for failing to diagnose the case. Words and accusations were exchanged and the NSW Government came very close to closing the border between the two States and breaking away from the Federation. Then, as now, people were very suspicious of “foreigners” even if the families had lived in Australia for generations.

In NSW it was illegal to travel on public transport unless wearing a face mask – penalty 10 pound. Sunday schools were ordered to close, indoor meetings were banned and all incoming ships even from other states were to be quarantined for four days. No persons were to remain in a licenced premise for more than 5 minutes, billiard rooms and library reading rooms were ordered to be closed as were racecourses.

New Zealand was much slower in implementing quarantine measures having 8753 deaths from the 1918 pandemic with the Maori suffering 10 times worse that the Europeans.

However in today’s age we should all be aware of conducting personal hygiene of washing your hands regularly and, when coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth or nose or aim into your elbow. I wish all readers to stay healthy.

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