Reflection: I suppose it had to happen eventually. Modern life as we know it normally involves widespread contact with many of the peoples of the world.
We have casually accepted social mixing with, perhaps, not enough attention to hygiene and the possible dangers.
Our exposure to peoples from around the world provided a great environment for an infectious disease to spread rapidly. To Europeans and Asians, particularly, mixing between countries is part of life and difficult to stop.
Sometimes we curse New Zealand’s huge distance from the heavily populated rest of the world, but our isolation gave us an advantageous time to prepare for the arrival of Covid-19 with prompt border control, helping to minimise a worse-case scenario.
School closures and country-wide business shutdowns were necessary.
The 1948 shutdown
The last time I experienced something akin to a whole country shutdown (if you don’t count carless days) was the beginning of 1948 when all schools’ Christmas holidays were extended until Easter.
I think I was in standard three (or year four if you prefer modern terminology) at Boulcott School, Lower Hutt. Our daily excitement was the broadcast to schools at 1pm every day and the occasional huge envelopes from the Correspondence School.
The reason? A worldwide epidemic of the disease poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis. This was a debilitating disease that scared everyone as it could leave its victims permanently partially paralysed.
Sixty-five people died from it in 1948. It wasn’t until 1955, when a vaccine was discovered, that the fear disappeared.
Vaccinations were part of my school life. I can’t understand why anyone should have any objections to them. They saved a lot of children from excessive discomfort (and possibly death) in the 1940s and 50s.
Living with infectious diseases
We grew up with a variety of infectious diseases. In the early 40s diphtheria was dangerous. Then in the mid-40s we had measles, mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough, tuberculosis, scarlet fever (a real worry – killed 40), and poliomyelitis, of course.
They were all contagious and we lived in constant fear of catching them.
I think we were saved by regular immunisation injections administered at school.
We had two types of measles: English (active large itchy spots) and German (a spotty rash that covered the whole body). I don’t remember us worrying too much about measles, I got the minor one, German.
I also got scarlet fever and spent many days in bed at home – hot, cold, aching legs. I remember Dad sitting beside the bed feeding me teaspoons of honey containing mashed Aspro. Apparently the only treatment around.
I think they thought scarlet fever continued to be contagious after the event and I remember spending time in Wellington Hospital.
From there I was transferred to a specially created isolation ward on the ground floor of a grandstand at Trentham Racecourse. I think I was there for a month or two.
I remember my parents standing outside the window visiting me. It’s a funny old world isn’t it?
When I was eight my parents couldn’t visit me and waved through the window and now 70 years later, just 500 metres from that racecourse window, my family could not visit me at Summerset Village during lockdown, giving me my groceries through the fence.
I grew up with major diseases threatening young children and now, in my 80s, we have the opposite with major disease threatening my age group.
We survived a raft of childhood diseases, and, thanks to systematic vaccination programmes they are no longer a problem. I don’t think we’ll lose the Covid-19 hysteria until a vaccine is discovered.
In the meantime we don’t even consider overseas travel – and probably won’t for some years.
It’s going to be very intriguing as to what sort of world we’ll end up with.
It’s anybody’s guess what business structures will replace today’s. One thing is sure – the virus threat WILL eventually disappear but our lifestyle will change radically.
A final thought:
Did you know that there are 10 million deaths (including 3.1 million children) every year from starvation and it’s not news? Interesting!
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Bill Werry of Werrys Paint Shops fame. He enjoys commenting on various items of his interest. What he writes is strictly his opinion.
Feel free to e-mail him: [email protected]