History

Watch | 'Wrong To Compare COVID-19 with Spanish Flu to Understand This Pandemic'

In conversation with Mitali Mukherjee, Professor Guillaume Lachenal who teaches History and specialises in global health and epidemics, at Sciences Po, said comparisons should be made with the avian flu and H1N1.

Geographies like Europe, America and the Indian sub-continent were ravaged by a surge in COVID-19 cases in the summer months, and are now living through a subsequent swell.

Almost all major European countries have recorded a sharp spike in new cases in the weeks of October through November, with France averaging over 41,000 cases a day in the latest week, the highest in the continent. Here in India, Delhi’s second wave has intensified, with daily infections rising beyond the peak registered during the first wave.

What are the challenges that remain, and what are the lessons to draw from this year?

In conversation with Mitali Mukherjee, Professor Guillaume Lachenal who teaches History and specialises in global health and epidemics, at Sciences Po, said people are looking at the wrong examples in time while trying to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many parallels are being drawn to the Spanish flu, the bigger lessons to draw were from the more recent “avian flu” and H1N1 epidemics in 2005 and 2009, where the importance of masks and intensive testing came through. So when the epidemic is out of control, lockdowns do help in limited measures, but the bigger focus should have been on contact tracing, surveillance and wearing masks.

Professor Lachenal also said that cities will need to reimagine themselves with a much greater thrust on healthcare and safer living spaces. The concept of trust and governance raised some fascinating binaries, on the one hand, a lack of trust had impacted relations between citizens and state in nations like America. However, there were examples from North and Northeast Africa, where trust in the ruling government was extremely low but community-level initiatives had ensured the pandemic’s spread was kept under control.