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“What we’ve done about lockdown has never happened before”

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If there is one thing in common between the coronavirus pandemic and the Spanish flu around 100 years ago, it is that it came in several waves. However, with COVID-19 there is still hope that the second wave will be milder – at least with regard to the number of dead and seriously ill, even if new measures have to be taken due to the sharp increase in the number of infections.

With the Spanish flu, there was an aggravating factor, as Laura Spinney, science journalist and author of the well-known bestseller “Pale Rider” about the super-epidemic, says in an interview with Technology Review. “There is ample evidence that the virus mutated in the spring of 1918 and that the disease was far more contagious, far more dangerous than it was when it returned in August.”

If it ran like 1918, the virus could mutate and become even more virulent, that is possible, but unlikely. “Coronaviruses are biologically much more stable than influenza viruses. In the long run, it is likely that the virus will become less dangerous to us and we will learn to live with it.”

Anyone who studies the history of the Spanish flu will learn that there was a mask debate even 100 years ago. In cities like San Francisco, the mayor sent police officers out onto the streets to make sure people covered their mouths and noses. “People are not good at having their freedom restricted for long periods of time,” says Spinney. “They can do it for a short time, but unfortunately such a pandemic requires discipline, for example when it comes to wearing a mask for a long time, and we don’t like that.”

"What we've done about lockdown has never happened before"

The author Laura Spinney.

(Image: Studio Cabrelli)

Personally, she does not feel that wearing a mask is a massive restriction on her freedom. “Let’s think back to a few months when we all stood on the balconies and applauded the doctors, nurses, and medical staff for literally risking their lives to care for patients in that first summit Pandemic. Have we forgotten that again? ”

The pursuit of freedom has not changed since 1918. However, the lockdown that many western countries have implemented is historically unique – because there was no such thing as the Spanish flu. “What we have done in terms of lockdown has never happened before. We have never done anything like this in such a comprehensive, broad and organized manner. Even if the European lockdown is not comparable to the one in Wuhan. Nobody came in, nobody Out.”


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In Germany, Spinney warns of the so-called prevention paradox. In some ways it is a real tragedy. “[Deutschland] becomes a victim of his own success. You were so good at keeping the curve flat so early that a lot of people don’t understand, don’t see why they still have to adhere to the restrictions. ”

Overall, it has become more difficult to instill discipline in people. “When we all had to stay at home, we still knew where we were and what we were asked to do. And it was only for a short period of time. Everyone was more or less willing to forfeit part of their freedom for the joint effort, around [den Ausbruch] bring under control. ”

Spinney sees dangers for the economy, but warns against breaking the rules. “I think you basically have to deal with the collateral damage, but they are not an argument against the containment measures to keep the curve flat and protect human lives from COVID.”


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