Friday, 19 February 2021

Governments did nothing about the Hong Kong Flu of 1968 which was much worse than Covid-19


Asian Flu emerged in China early in 1957 and spread by September to the UK, where doctors were “amazed at the extraordinary infectivity of the disease”. 

Some GPs called for the British government to issue a warning about the virus and coordinate measures to deal with it. 

One doctor writing to the BMJ in June 1957 said,
“The public seems under the impression that nothing can be done to prevent the calamity that is threatened by the advance of influenza in the Far East. On the contrary there is a great deal that the Government can do; by acting at once they may save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
These calls were ignored and the press did not make a big thing of the pandemic.

The flu burnt itself out by April 1958, after the deaths of about 20,000 people in the UK and more than 1 million deaths worldwide.

Between 1 and 4 million people died of the Hong Kong Flu of 1968, with half the deaths among individuals aged up to 65 — very much in contrast to Covid-19, 90% of whose victims are 65 or over.  

Life in 1968, as in 1958, continued as normal. 

Daddy and I spent two or three days in bed with the Hong Kong Flu, doing puzzles in my Rupert Bear annual.  

100,000 have died with Covid-19 in the UK, but we do not know how many of those deaths were caused by Covid-19. 

Covid-19 has killed a far smaller percentage of the world's population people than the 1958 and 1968 flus, because the world's population has more than trebled since 1968. 

It is true that last year the British Office for National Statistics recorded 85,000 excess deaths compared with the average for the last five years.

That sounds very bad but the number of deaths, taking into account the size and age structure of the population, was no more than in every year up to and including 2008.

Why the stoicism in 1958 and 1968? (Or in 2008?)

Intensive care units did not exist in 1958 and ventilators were rudimentary. There were no vaccines and no undue numbers of people in hospitals with flu. 

The media were perhaps more deferential in 1958 and 1968, though the media nowadays are anxious not to spread views that question those of the Chief Medical Officer. 

The newspapers fifty years ago were reluctant to stoke public fears, while suggestions that the British government campaign to alert people were discounted for fear of the press inspiring panic.

In fact 30,000 people died of the Hong Kong Flu in the UK.

Lockdowns were impossible in 1957 and 1968 because men and many women had to go to the office, the factory or the fields. 

Had they been possible, would they on balance have saved lives or cost them?

1 comment:

  1. Paul Marks commented: The "Spanish Flu" originated in China, almost all massive world plagues do (partly because China has always had the largest population).