WHO Pacific head says Spanish flu which killed 50 million should be lesson for Islands

The World Health Organisation has urged Pacific island nations to stay vigilant against Covid-19, citing the late spread of the 1918 Spanish flu through the region as a cautionary tale.

The head of the WHO in the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai, the organisation believed the pandemic had entered a new phase in the region.

Dr Kasai said the increasing numbers of cases, particularly in French Polynesia and Guam, were not just a resurgence.

In 1918 at the height of the influenza epidemic, the New Zealand governor of what was then Western Samoa allowed passengers from the Talune to disembark in Apia.

In the next six weeks 8000 people – about a quarter of the population – died.

Plague ship

Still carrying infected passengers, the Talune then sailed on to Tonga, calling at Neiafu, Vava’u, Ha’Apai and to Nuku’Alofa in Tongatapu, where it arrived on November 12, 1918.

Within a few days of the Talune‘s arrival, the disease had spread with heavy loss of life.

The death toll in Tonga is estimated as being as high as 2000 people, or about 10 percent of the population died between November 1918 and January 1919.

Among the dead was the Queen Dowager Takipō.

After Tongatapu the Talune sailed for Nauru, where once again the first cases of influenza appeared ashore within a few days of her departure.

By the time the Spanish influenza epidemic burned itself out in 1919, it had infected 500 million people and killed 50 million people around the world.

Covid-19 has so far claimed 788,000 lives.

The main points

  • The World Health Organisation has urged Pacific island nations to stay vigilant against Covid-19, citing the late spread of the 1918 Spanish flu through the region as a cautionary tale.
  • The head of the WHO in the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai, the organisation believed the pandemic had entered a new phase in the region.

 

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