The Covid-19 pandemic has been compared to the last really serious worldwide pandemic that led to 50 million deaths, that of Spanish flu, in 1918. The similarities include the fact that both diseases are caused by viruses which were new to humanity. Because of their novelty, there was no immunity in the human population, leading to many deaths. Also similar was the fact that the viruses were very contagious and easily spread through the air as infected people coughed, sneezed or shouted. Even now, after a century, there are no drugs or vaccines available to counter the disease. The same sort of measures back then are the same today which are lockdowns, social distancing, quarantines, face masks, hand washing and improved hygiene.
That’s about where the similarities end and the differences start. The main differences are technological. Some of this technology has actually contributed to spreading the disease, such as air travel. The more people travel and intermingle, the faster the virus spreads.
Most technological innovations have made a positive difference, though. They have either made it easier to detect the virus, combat it; reduce the symptoms of the disease or make it more comfortable for those people who have to contend with the practical realities for the pandemic.
The following is a Brief List of some of those Technologies which have made a difference.
1. Medical Advances
Back in 1918, nobody knew exactly what caused diseases like influenza. Bacteria had been discovered and even seen under the microscopes of the period, but they weren’t powerful enough to detect viruses. Now, medical advances allow scientists to analyse the chemical make-up of the outer coat of the virus, map the genetic material that lies on the RNA strand inside the virus and develop tests that can detect this specific virus quickly and reasonably accurately. Knowledge of the human immune system is much better, allowing scientists to detect antibodies produced during an immune response, research possible vaccines and even the evolutionary history of SARS-Cov-2.
2. The Internet
Back in 1918, people learned about the spread of the flu and who was infected or died through newspapers, word of mouth and the telegraph. There weren’t even radio broadcasts. Now, of course TV has almost been eclipsed by the widespread availability of the Internet. This is a bit of a double edged sword as false information and conspiracy theories can be disseminated through the internet, just as useful warnings, government health instructions and warnings and world-wide news can be obtained at the click of a mouse.
The Internet also allows work from home, an absolute godsend for people who can work from home while there are stay at home orders or lockdowns. One of the problems during the Spanish Flu was that the success of lockdowns and home quarantining was limited because people needed to earn a living to survive, prompting them to leave their homes earlier than was safe.
3. Online Shopping and E-Learning
Related to the widespread use of the internet is the fact that people restricted to their homes except for essential business are still able to buy and sell goods through online shopping and online transaction websites like eBay. This has been around for some time, of course, and even before the pandemic there had been a trend away from shopping in bricks and mortar stores, but the trend has certainly accelerated during the pandemic.
eLearning is another way around studying when it is deemed too dangerous for students to be at schools, colleges and universities. Of course, there are some subjects that easily lend themselves to eLearning and others, especially practical subjects that do not.