Here’s a trivia question. Why was the massive flu epidemic in 1918 called the Spanish flu? The pandemic originated in France and other countries. But news of it was censored during World War I. The pandemic only received greater press attention when it arrived in Spain in November. Spain was not involved in the war and had not imposed any wartime censorship.
During that same time, the US government also tried to play down the Spanish flu lest it hurt the war effort. Paul Wolfowitz and Max Frost remind us that a Los Angeles health official declared there was “no cause for alarm.” An Arkansas newspaper described the disease as merely the “same old fever and chills.” All of this was happening while people were dying by the thousands. By the time three waves of the flu spread across the nations, 50 million people died.
Perhaps you can see where I am going with this commentary. Censorship and secrecy make a deadly flu virus even more devastating. That is what seems to be happening in China. The Chinese Communist Party is all about social control and censorship. We really don’t know what is happening on the ground. We do know that the Chinese government has been taking extraordinary measures to restrict movement and thus the spread of the disease.
Perhaps the current actions are due to China’s experience with the SARS outbreak that killed more than 700 people in 34 countries around the world. But we do have to wonder if we are getting accurate information from a government that assured us last month that the virus was “under control” and merely a “mild condition.”
Censorship back in 1918 took a deadly virus and made it more lethal because common sense actions were implemented too late. We can only hope and pray this time that we are getting good information.