History and Hope

“This sickness doth infect
The very life-blood of our enterprise.”

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597),

The virus Covid-19 is occupying 99% of the world’s attention, news reports, conversations and – no doubt – human thought. So – who are we to buck the trend? There are mutterings that this is an unprecedented event, that we hominids have never experienced anything like it before, that this is what could kick off Armageddon. All of these are, quite simply, overreactions. What is unprecedented is the level of communication that exists during this time, and whilst this is an extremely Good Thing in terms of humanity being able to spread the word faster than the virus can get around, it is a Bad Thing in terms of panic generation, false information and negative predictions.

Between 1347 and 1351 bubonic plague killed off an estimated 200 million people in Eurasia. This was 60% of Europe’s population, and around 40% of the Asian and Egyptian peoples. For coronavirus to reach those numbers (and accepting that it is now a worldwide pandemic), this would mean around three and a half billion lives to be lost to Covid-19. But I digress: back to history. That mid-14th century event was just one of repeated epidemics; historians suggest that plague affected Europe every year between 1346 and 1671. According to Geoffrey Parker: “France alone lost almost a million people to the plague in the epidemic of 1628–31.” The well-documented Great Plague of London in 1665 killed off an estimated 100 000 people. Plague repeatedly struck the cities of North Africa. Algiers lost 50,000 inhabitants to it in 1620–1621, and again in 1654–1657, 1665, 1691, and 1740–1742. We could go on and on, but to us, half a millennium later, they are just numbers: the people who died then exert no emotional connection on us.

But more recently, and in some living memories, was the post-World War 1 Spanish flu epidemic. This was a worldwide phenomenon, and the numbers who died are surprisingly badly documented; they range in estimates from 25 million to over a 100 million. With a global population of around 1.7 billion at the time, this gives a range from 1% to 6% of the earth’s inhabitants: in technical terms, a lot of people. In numbers we can relate to in comparison to current circumstances: in France more than 400 000 died, in Britain 250 000. 99% of them under the age of 65, in stark contrast to the 2020 scourge that is far more deadly to the elderly and infirm. As of today, coronavirus has infected 1.34 million individuals worldwide, and 74 800 have perished, but with the caveat that over 285 000 people have recovered. With the Spanish flu and bubonic plague, once ill, your chances of recovery were very, very slim.

But statistics, as we have said before, are just cold facts. The impact of coronavirus on our current society is not lessened by comparison with historical events, but we must take advantage of the enormous advances in communication and medicine. Our scientists can actually look at the virus with scanning microscopes; they can work out its provenance; they can work on solutions. The poor earthlings of the 14th to 18th centuries had no clue as to where the terrifying plague was coming from. General consensus was that it was mal aria, or bad air (and yes, that is the misguided root of ‘malaria’ too; seems the air had it in for our ancestors), and one individual walked around London with a bowl of flaming pitch tied on to his head to ostensibly burn off the germs. He survived, strangely, but history doesn’t record if his hair did. Because rats and fleas had been a way of life in civilisation since cave-dwelling days, nobody made the connection between flea bites from rat-riding fleas and bubonic plague.

We know differently these days, and potential solutions and avoidance tactics for pestilences are immediately scrutinised and circulated – instantly in respect of communications with the press of a ‘send’ key . All we ask is that people listen, carry out the instructions, and keep smiling. No matter what your personal belief is regarding the scourge, following the recommended preventative steps can only make things better – they cannot make things worse.

This time will pass: coronavirus, like the plagues and epidemics of old, will one day just be a chapter in history. We appreciate that this makes it no easier for those around the world suffering from the illness, or their relatives, but we must take heart from the knowledge that the greatest medical minds on the planet are working on answers, and must be positive that they will succeed in finding them.
And we must never forget the bravery of those in the frontline of defense: they are the true heroes of the hour.

Waterfront Charters might be in physical lockdown, but our lines are buzzing as we work behind the scenes to set up new, exciting, cruise options. Watch this space! Whatever you do, keep future focussed: the world will be back to normal (whatever that is!) in the not too distant future, and our lives will open up again for work, play and human interaction. Our boat’s decks will once again be full of happy guests, and our hearts will be full.