News & events


10 March 2020

South Africa bungled the Spanish flu in 1918. History mustn’t repeat itself for COVID-19

The Conversation

The St Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty with mask-wearing women holding stretchers at the backs of ambulances during the global flu epidemic, St Louis, Missouri, October 1918. Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

As the issue of repatriation of foreign nationals from China grabs the headlines in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent in the wake of the spread of COVID-19, there are some important lessons that can still be drawn from events 102 years ago in 1918 when an earlier epidemic, of so-called Spanish flu, arrived in the country.

This was the most devastating pandemic of modern times, killing more than 50 million people around the world (or 3%-4% of the globe’s population) in just over a year.

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The Conversation

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