Pandemics are nothing new to us. New pathogens will always be created by the fundamental nature of evolution. Fortunately, most of them are not that dangerous or stays confined to a small geographical area. But with increased travel, we have created an easier path for these dangerous pathogens to travel across the world and do it very rapidly.
Therefore, the emergence of COVID-19 is not all that surprising, and scientists have been predicting such an occurrence for a while. It is a different issue why we didn’t take these warnings more seriously and prepare better for this crisis. Perhaps we could have cut down the death rate significantly if all of our institutions were better prepared.
However, something is very different this time around, and because of that far fewer people will be dead after this storm blows past. The difference is, we are not just siting fatefully, but we are doing something to minimize our loss. Some countries could be doing it better, and some are making huge mistakes, but everyone is doing something to prevent the spread and the deaths.
The largest pandemic in recent times was the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 that affected one third of the world population and killed 45 million people, or 2.5% of the world’s population. As the disease spread across the world, people just watched it in absolute horror and hoped that they are spared. They did not prevent travel or practice isolation. They could not take care of the sick or discover a medicine or vaccine. We didn’t even fully understand what a virus was.
In the last 100 years we have made incredible progress in understanding these pathogens, understand how they propagate, how to create vaccines against them, and how to treat the infected. We also have far more organized governments and institutions that can act on this knowledge and provide some degree of protection. Finally, we have much better ways of communicating this knowledge at a global scale.
With all this on our side, the death toll of COVID will be large, but so much smaller than what it could have been just 50 or 100 years ago. As of today the death toll stands at 70 thousand, which is less than one-one-thousandth of one percent of our population. Even if the final death toll is 4 times larger, which is more than what the experts are predicting, it will still be 3/1000 of one percent. During the many pandemics of the 17th, 18th and 19th century, the death rates were often in the vicinity of 0.1% and often far more. That is, we are about 30 times more likely to survive this catastrophe than if we were to experience it just 50 or 100 years ago.
I would rather be alive today than any other time in history.