“COVID-19: Memories of the Future or what History teaches us?”. IPN debate

The current pandemic is not the first and, regrettably, is not the last in the history of mankind. And history offers sufficiently convincing examples of the destructive effects of the previous health cataclysms and also particular examples of what and how should be done to diminish them at present and in the future. Well-known experts in public health and history of public health discussed related stories in a public debate titled “COVID-19: Memories of the Future or what History teaches us?” that was staged by IPN News Agency.

IPN project’s standing expert Igor Boțan said a crisis is a state when the instruments available for achieving the objectives become inadequate and result in unpredictable situations. “The current health crisis indeed created an unpredictable situation that results in the exhaustion of the healthcare system of the Republic of Moldova. This works to the limit and this fact is admitted by the authorities. Extra-efforts should be made to maintain the healthcare system functional as the consequences are rather serious for the economy. We all saw that a series of enterprises were closed during the pandemic and what relaxation measures followed. Regrettably, these enterprises cannot return to the normal pace. All these things are related to what we call health crisis in the Republic of Moldova,” noted Igor Boțan.

According to him, the pandemic represents the spread of an infectious disease during a relatively short period of time through contagion. It is contagion in particular proportions and on a particular territory and the spread of a disease becomes a pandemic when the infection rate is of 2% to 5%. When it goes to a pandemic, not only the number of infected people counts, but also the size of affected areas. History knows very well relevant cases of pandemic. For example, in the sixth century almost one third of the people in a region of the Byzantine Empire died. In the 14th century, there was the Black Death when the bubonic plague killed approximately one third of Europe’s population. In the 20th century, the so-called Spanish flu after World War II caused the death of over 100 million people, with almost half a billion people worldwide becoming infected. “So, we have these sources from which we can learn lessons and replicate them in the current situation,” said the expert.

Public health expert Ala Tokarchuk noted that collective expertise is very important in crisis situations and historical data from part of this collective expertise. She mentioned three pandemics that occurred in the 21st century, saying the COVID-19 pandemic is the fourth. The first pandemic was in 2002-2003, when the first SARS or first coronavirus that causes atypical pneumonia was discovered. It started in November 2002 and ended in July 2003, being swiftly localized. “I’m often asked why SARS-CoV-1 was localized so swiftly, but the current COVID-19 cannot be localized. The differences are medical in character. The coronavirus of 2002-2003 generated very clear symptoms and the infected persons could be easily isolated and those with whom these contacted could be supervised. It could be thus quickly stopped and what the medicine, humanity did in relation to the first coronavirus is now very useful and can be replicated during the current pandemic,” she explained.

According to Ala Tokarchuk, another pandemic was that of 2009-2010 and was related to the A (H1N1) virus or bird flu. This pandemic resulted in a record number of infected persons - 24% of the global population. About 300,000 people died. The difference between that pandemic and the current pandemic is enormous because the A (H1N1) virus could be treated with three types of drugs. The third pandemic, Ebola, was localized in Africa only. Something can be learned from all the three pandemics, but not too much. “During the current pandemic, we face an absolutely different virus that has a multitude of medical manifestations, including the asymptomatic form. This causes difficulties in the monitoring of the pandemic. We should thus learn the lesson and comply with the rules and can stop this pandemic by common efforts,” noted the expert.

University professor Virgiliu Pâslariuc, doctor of historical sciences, said society is actually the product of millennium-long selection, of the body’s fight against bacteria. The antique pandemics are the oldest ones. The Plague of Athens of the fifth century, when the leader of Athens Pericles died, is well known. Or the plague of the sixth century, which is considered the first pandemic in the Byzantine Empire, which was actually a tri-continental empire. It was the first serious experience when the people started to think what can be done to fight that invisible enemy. The first measures were natural – isolation, reduction of contacts. The Black Death of the 14th century struck seriously and brought into use the word “quarantine”– the 40-day period that the ships were to stay in ports,” said the professor.

He noted the experience of that pandemic brought with it anxiety, fear for the future generated by questions without answers. In those periods, societies became very agitated as they could not understand where the dangers came from. In time, the first institutionalization and sanitation measures started to be taken. In the 19th century, modern society made effort to implement the first elements of public society. The example of Louis Pasteur, who tried to convince humanity of the existence of the danger posed by the virus, is very important. “This is actually one of the big problems of the state and institutions – to demonstrate and persuade the people that measures are needed. And these measures include discipline and self-discipline. Those models should be undertaken now,” stated Virgiliu Pâslariuc.

The debate “COVID-19: Memories of the Future or what History teaches us?” was the 146th installment of the series of debates “Developing political culture through public debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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