Molly Guinness

Keep calm and address Ebola: a brief history of pandemics at The Spectator

Ebola clinics in many parts of West Africa are full, so more and more people are being told to stay at home and take Paracetamol and fluids if they become infected. It means if someone in your family gets Ebola, you all have to stay in the house, which is effectively a death sentence.

At the moment, the disease is killing 70 per cent of the people it infects, but that’s likely to go up. People who need other medical treatment can’t get it, and in Sierra Leone 40 per cent of farmland has been abandoned. Western governments are building secure military encampments for health workers, fearing civil unrest and angry mobs.

In 1898, there were plague riots in India after authorities brought in sanitary measures, including quarantine camps. The Spectator at the time reported:

A crowd composed of both Hindoos and Mussulmans endeavoured to rescue some prisoners sentenced at Seringapatam for breaking the rules, and, being defeated, called in ten thousand men from the surrounding villages, and made a desperate attack upon the fort… Many even swam the river, and the police and a small body of cavalry were compelled to fire, killing many, though the number is not stated… The people of Mysore think the precautions ordered by science far more dreadful than the Plague. Killing them for that erroneous opinion may be morally justifiable, though we doubt it; but is clearly unwise.

A few years earlier in Egypt, the government had taken a more hardline approach.

There is no brutality like that of the panic-struck. The deaths at Damietta from cholera exceed one hundred a day, though the population is only 30,000. A cordon of troops has been accordingly drawn round the wretched town, with orders to shoot anyone found leaving it.

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