History of epidemics in Quebec: an air of déjà-vu

Histoire des épidémies au Québec: un air de déjà-vu

Histoire des épidémies au Québec: un air de déjà-vu

According to Denis Goulet, the port of the mask in the closed areas could avoid a second wave.

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July 10, 2020

Updated on July 11, 2020 6h19

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History of epidemics in Quebec: an air of déjà-vu

Histoire des épidémies au Québec: un air de déjà-vu

Histoire des épidémies au Québec: un air de déjà-vu

Normand Provencher

The Sun

Like the rest of the world, Québec has not been spared over the centuries by the epidemics. Cholera, typhus, smallpox, Spanish flu, and now the COVID-19, as many of the plagues that have hit hard the population and demonstrated the difficulties of the public authorities to react effectively in the face of danger. However, if the times have changed and science has developed a better understanding of the virus, several behaviors have remained the same. The Sun has discussed it with Denis Goulet, associate professor at the Faculty of medicine of the Université de Montréal, a specialist in the history of medicine and disease, and author of the book a Brief history of epidemics in Quebec, canada, Of the cholera COVID-19. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Q reading your book, when you look at all the epidemics of plague, cholera, typhus and sars coronavirus which swept the world over time, one finally realizes that pandemics have always been an integral part of the history of humanity.

R Yes, always. There have been recurrences, which are more pronounced in some countries in Southeast Asia and India, where still occur localized outbreaks of plague. These epidemics are increasing, because some viruses manage to cross the barrier from animal to man. The duck and pork are often vectors of transmission. Most of the world’s population is growing, more promiscuity between man and animals is great. This is also what happened with the aids or the Ebola virus.

Q regardless of the epochs, we can see that the epidemics cause reactions excessive and strange in the population. We speak of divine punishment, people are looking for scapegoats, it calls into question the science. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same, if we look at what is happening with the COVID.

R At the bottom, the attitudes and the representations vary quite a bit. This is the case with attitudes of fear, denial of the disease — we can see it with the attitude of (Donald) Trump and (Jair) Bolsonaro (president of Brazil) — the conspiracy theories… The Jews became the scapegoats during the plague epidemics. For the Spanish flu, it accused the Germans in the trenches during the First world War) to have carried the virus. Conversely, we see behavior that is more positive, such as the support, the caring, the courage.

Q When you see gatherings of revelers in parties and bars, without any preventative measure, or distance, does that surprise you?

R As a historian, not so much. During the Spanish flu, there has been a few of these rallies, because the people were more disciplined. Life was harder too, longer working days. There was a moral order more strong. The young people were more subject to the authority of the parents. We live today in a society that is much more hedonistic, where the fun outweighs.

Q That’s not counting the impact of social media, which spread a multitude of information that are often false.

R Absolutely. It is much more widespread, but at the same time, we cannot say that the spread of false news is recent. During the epidemic of Spanish flu, a doctor from Sherbrooke claimed to have found a miracle drug. It was disinformation, because there was no cure for this disease. It has had to create a lot of contamination, because the person who thought to protect themselves by using the camphor, it is quite possible that she walked around in public places with confidence.

Q You write that the political or economic authorities to establish preventive measures that, following a period of crisis. It has often criticised the government Legault has acted on the late to take action as the virus spread in China and in Europe. What do you think of these criticisms?

R When I saw that the virus was made in Northern Italy, it became apparent that it would affect Europe and America. Today, viruses no longer have border, with the thousands of international flights daily and mass tourism. As a professor in epidemiology and is more sensitive to the issue than the average person, I had even alerted friends who came to buy tickets for a trip to Italy that this was not the time to leave. They would have fallen into a full pandemic. They made me thankful for today. What I reproach to the government, is to have acted too late, to have been too much to wait and see. I was surprised that there was no incentive for people to stay at home for the two weeks of spring break (in march). Behind all this lies the idea, which is fundamental according to me, the precautionary principle. Prevention is better than cure. When one studies the history of epidemics, we realize that the public authorities intervene after crisis situations. For example, it is after the smallpox epidemic in 1885, the government created the Council of hygiene of the province of Quebec. After the outbreak of the Spanish flu, was the federal ministry of Health, in 1919. This is not so much the scientists who are at fault that sometimes the policy makers.

Q In 1920, when it was believed that the Spanish flu pandemic was gone, a second wave of influenza has struck the province of Quebec. Do you believe that the same scenario is likely to repeat itself with the COVID-19?

R In 1920, the second wave was much less important. There had been so many people affected by the virus as an immunization collective was made. This is less the case today. But I’m rather optimistic. In the history of major pandemics, there has been little second-wave to that of the Spanish flu. When the big curve down, it will sometimes return a small curve, but usually it fades pretty quickly. In the case of the COVID, everything will depend on the behavior of the population. If people comply with the health measures — and that includes the port of the mask in enclosed places, I think we can avoid a second wave. I’d be more optimistic if we were in a germanic culture. In Germany, the people are disciplined, which is not the case in Quebec. Any person in charge of public health must take into account the cultural factor. In Spain, for example, it has been very difficult. The Spanish lived in extended family, go out often in restaurants to eat tapas. They are always in a group. However, the pandemic has hit hard there.

Q You conclude your book by drawing a parallel between the foot-dragging of the public authorities and economic in the face of pandemics, and as it is noted in respect of the major environmental problems arising from global warming. In other words, if we do not deploy that much energy to save the planet to eradicate a virus, what is not happy what awaits us…

R Not. I don’t have grandchildren, but if I had, I would not be very optimistic for them. There is really a movement of overconsumption, even among the younger generation.

Denis Goulet, a Brief history of epidemics in Quebec, canada, Of the cholera COVID-19Éditions North, 180 pages

Le Soleil

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