What are the effects of the epidemics in the societies?

The new Corona virus leaves its mark on all aspects of life. Entire countries are paralyzed, borders are closed, and global economies have slowed and schools have closed.

All of this raises a question about the impact of major epidemics such as the Spanish flu in 2018 and the black plague in the fourteenth century on societies.

Although medieval Europe, after its exit from World War I, differs greatly from today's world and society in light of the means of communication, the Internet, and globalization, “a pandemic has always been a test for society and an era,” says science historian Laurent-Henri Vigneau of the University of Burgundy, France.

He explains that the epidemic "threatens social ties, and unleashes a hidden form of civil war in which everyone is wary of its neighbor."

"At this point, it appears in the unreasonable scenes of people scrambling in the stores over the last bundle of toilet paper ... The situation is more tragic in Italy, where doctors have to choose a patient to save him instead of another because of a lack of equipment, as happens in wartime ".

The major epidemics, in particular, have brought about a change in “our health systems”, as noted by historian and demographic expert Patrice Bordeaux from the Graduate School of Social Sciences, who produced the concept of quarantine and devised methods of sterilization.

Geographer Freddy Fenney of the University of Paul Valerie in Montpellier notes that the flu named "Spanish" that spread during the end of World War I had a "structural impact on the history of health".

This recent global epidemic that has killed 50 million people has created awareness of the need for a global management of the risks of infectious diseases, and has created a generation of young virologists.

On the other hand, "in terms of behavior, it created a minimum distance between people, which in Western societies exceeded that in other societies," according to Bordeaux.

When epidemics also spread, there is always a scapegoat, according to this historian, pointing out that "we witnessed a stage of hatred towards the Chinese as the epidemic started."

During the plague epidemic that invaded Europe in the Middle Ages between 1347 and 1351, the Jewish population became the target of attacks, sometimes massacres, as happened in 1349 in Strasbourg, when about a thousand Jews were burned.

The great stages of the plague's spread led to "epicuric reactions" in the sense of seeking pleasure, anticipating matters, and spending money without an account. The researchers, William Navi and Andrew Spicer, in their book "The Black Plague 1345-1730", indicate that people in those stages "chose to go to cabarets and bars, and lived every day as if it were the last."

On the contrary, others chose to move away from the world, as the Italian writer Boccaccio (1313-1375), who in his book Decameron (Human Comedy) tells how ten Florentians voluntarily quarantined outside Florence to escape the plague.

Laurent-Henry Venue notes that "epidemics are a common product of nature and societies, between microbes and humans. Germs do not become dangerous under certain conditions."

This is how the Black Plague invaded in the late 14th century, "where Europe was thriving and trade was intense, cities were crowded, and voyages of exploration were at their height."

The plague took advantage of this prosperity, put an end to it, and announce the end of the system of slavery upon which the medieval society was built, as Venue explains.

Freddy Vinet explains that in 1918, the influenza pandemic had economic results that "were ultimately very small compared to the effects of the war in Europe".

This is an exception, because the general rule is that epidemics have important economic implications, as they "stop exchanges" and "redirect trade towards other means," according to Bordeaux.

In the Middle Ages, the frequent spread of plague epidemics in the Mediterranean basin may have contributed to the growth of northern European cities, according to Bordeaux.

He adds that the recurrent health crises in China today, the center of manufacturing in the world, may stimulate the diversification of production and supply sites in the world.


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