Last night I watched this Munk Dialogue with historian Niall Ferguson. (Some of you may remember that I wrote about a previous dialogue with Malcolm Gladwell a few weeks ago.) One of the sobering lessons of history is that, without a vaccine, we’re probably not yet in a position to talk about life after COVID-19. At least in the short-term, this is going to be life with COVID-19.
Here is an excerpt from an article Niall wrote talking about how “a second wave could capsize Trump.”
In history, all the great pandemics have come in waves, including the Black Death of bubonic and pneumonic plague in the 14th century and smallpox in the 18th century. The first recorded plague outbreak — in Athens in the 5th century BC — had three waves: in 430BC, 429BC and 427 to 426BC.
In some cases, the second wave was worse than the first. Take the great influenza of 1918-19. The first official recorded outbreak was at a Kansas army base, Camp Funston, in March 1918. But the global peak of mortality was in the second wave of October and November. A third wave affected some areas of the world in early 1919, principally England and Wales and Australia.
The 1957-58 influenza pandemic hit Hong Kong in mid-April 1957. It reached America in June and produced a surge of deaths among teenagers that autumn. But there was a second wave in January-March 1958. There were further spikes of excess mortality in early 1960 and early 1963.
The other topic I was left thinking about from the dialogue is what all of this does to US-China relations, and more broadly relations between the West and China. Even before this pandemic, Niall had been arguing that Cold War II had already begun. Today’s news that China is planning new national security laws for Hong Kong certainly doesn’t help.