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How Long Does a Pandemic Usually Last?

History says it can take years to beat a pandemic.

Despite the development and distribution of several COVID-19 vaccines around the world, Singapore Education Minister Lawrence Wong said that the pandemic and “new normal” ways of living could still last for a few more years.

“The rules around wearing of masks, upholding of safe distancing measures, and avoiding crowded places — these will continue to be part of everyday life,” Wong said during the Institute of Policy Studies’ Singapore Perspectives Conference.

“The bottom line is that we live in a shared world, and no one is safe until everyone is safe,” he added. (Read: What Is ‘Herd Immunity’ and How Can It Beat the Pandemic?)

But how long do pandemics and plagues usually last? My Pope lists some of the plagues, pandemics, and epidemics that have wreaked havoc in the world in the past to see how long it took before they were controlled and eradicated.

Post-Pandemic Recovery: Bubonic Plague

Scene from “The plague in Marseilles in 1721” by Michel Serre. The Great Plague of Marseilles was the last large-scale European outbreak of the disease. (Photo from DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / via Getty Images / PBS)

The Bubonic Plague, which devastated Europe in the 1300s, is a disease that people got from rodents with a flea-borne bacterial disease. Infamously called the Black Death, the bubonic plague took the lives of 200 million individuals in just four years. The number of deaths can be attributed to the limited understanding of people on how contagion works, unlike now where we already know that proximity is a factor in spreading diseases.

The most popular theory on how the disease was contained is that people who were healthy were quarantined and stayed in their homes during the plague. The bubonic plague ended after seven years, but London had been affected greatly — having as many as 40 outbreaks in over 300 years (1348-1665).

Post-Pandemic Recovery: Spanish Influenza

(1918) Beds with patients in an emergency hospital in Camp Funston, Kansas, in the midst of the influenza epidemic. The flu struck while America was at war, and was transported across the Atlantic on troop ships. (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Spanish Influenza was a disease that ravaged different parts of the world back in 1918. An estimated 100 million lives were taken because of the disease which was caused by the H1N1 Influenza A virus. The virus infected around 500 million individuals— almost a third of the world’s population at that time— and lasted from 1918 to 1920. (Read: How do you eat healthy while in quarantine? We asked a nutritionist-dietician!)

Post-Pandemic Recovery: Russian Influenza

The Great Russian Flu of the early 1890s may have been a Covid-like virus that crossed to humans from cows, scientists suggest. (Photo from Mediscan / Alamy / The Guardian)

The Russian Influenza is said to have originated from Bukhara in what was then the Russian Empire. The virus that caused the disease is uncertain but many say it can either be the A/H3N8, A/H2N2, or coronavirus OC43. (Read: How Effective is China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 Vaccine?)

Russian influenza made a dent in the world’s population— having effectively killed 1 million people worldwide during a time when the world’s population was only at 1.5 billion. Its devastation lasted only a year, from 1889 to 1890. But despite the short time, it is still one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

No one can actually say how long a pandemic is going to last, but the cooperation of the general public plays a big role in helping shorten the time to control and eradicate diseases. With that, remember to always wear face masks, face shields, observe physical distancing, and don’t go outside for non-essential things as much as possible.

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