I would be hard pressed to find a single person in Thailand that has not been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in some way, shape or form. It has been a really wild quadruple corkscrew rollercoaster ride that is now slowly, mercifully, coming to a gradual end.
But what about the long historical view of the pandemic? There is an old Chinese curse: “May you live in an important age!” There is no question that we are definitely living in an important age. All of us are seeing major, historical, even wrenching, changes. Many institutions, businesses, interpersonal relationships, supply distribution systems and organisations are going through tremendous, even earth shattering, alterations. Some of them will not survive. With every major pandemic throughout human history all have brought about profound changes to all the civilisations it touched. This current pandemic is no different. A brief review of previous major pandemics is warranted to see where we are all going next:
Actually the first major power change occurred during a typhoid fever epidemic in ancient Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Athens held absolute power over the whole of Greece and region for centuries. The epidemic decimated the population plus the Athenian army. Athens lost the war and never regained regional dominance.
In ancient Rome, the Antonine Plague (165-180 A.D.) killed millions of people with a high mortality rate. Many historians believe this significant loss of population greatly weakened Roman power. It allowed non-Romans into the empire as citizens to replace population losses, leading to its eventual decline.
The longest and most devastating pandemic was the Plague of Justinian (541-588 A.D.). The outbreak hammered the Byzantine Empire. Perhaps 50 million people died. It broke the power of the ancient pagan religions as many sought religious solace elsewhere. They found this in Christianity soon becoming the completely dominant religion in Europe.
The most famous pandemic in history was the Black Death (1347-1351 A.D.). It devastated Western Europe with between 30 to 50% of the population succumbing. This led to the end of feudalism as surviving workers could demand their own wages and jobs. Due to the great lack of manpower this event spurred many technological and scientific advances.
The Columbian Exchange ravaged the North and South American Indian populations starting from the early 15th century. The European invaders brought smallpox, hemorrhagic fevers, and other diseases the local people had no immunity to. It has been estimated that up to 90% of the indigenous people died, many tens of millions.
More recently, several successive influenza viruses have had a big impact on the world, especially the “Spanish” influenza of 1918-1920 and the AIDS pandemic from 1981. It is ironic that although 50 million people expired during the “Spanish” flu, the devastation of WWI was the event that changed the entire world.
Mankind will again survive this terrible pandemic. But things will look very different when the dust settles.