Deadlier than Spanish Flu? Global COVID-19 caseload tops 200 million mark

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Deadlier than Spanish Flu? Global COVID-19 caseload tops 200 million mark

 Deadlier than Spanish Flu? Global COVID-19 caseload tops 200 million mark
Image source: Representative Image. © Scaliger |

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has breached yet another unwanted milestone in its one-and-a-half-year life: more than 200 million people have contracted the virus.

Yes, on Tuesday, as the world reported 601,293 fresh daily cases and almost 10,000 daily deaths, the number of cumulative cases across the world breach 200 million mark – and it currently stands at 200.22 million. Of this, 4.3 million have lost their lives.

This number is what governments across the globe have accounted for. Even going by the official numbers, this pandemic is the worst in a century. The last time the world was ravaged by such a deadly pandemic was almost a century ago – when Spanish Flu unleashed havoc.

So, tell us more about Spanish Flu?

Also known as Great Influenza, Spanish Flu was a global pandemic. Officially, it has been said that it ripped through the world between 1918-20. But many contest that, due to lack of data: they believe that the pandemic might have started way earlier. Why? There is an interesting story behind it: did you know that term Spanish Flu is a misnomer? Well, yes. Back then, Europe was witness to the chaos of World War I. To maintain the morale of the armies, the countries fighting the war suppressed bad news. However, in case of Spain – which was neutral – newspapers were free to report the epidemic's effects. They also reported the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII. The reportage by Spanish press created a false impression of Spain being especially hard hit by the pandemic, leading the global press to adopt the name "Spanish" flu. To make it clear, it had as much to do with Spain as with other countries. Officially, the pandemic was marked as having begun on 4 March 1918, with the recording of the index case of Albert Gitchell, a cook in the army – stationed at Camp Funston in Kansas, United States. However, there having been cases before him.

So how bad is COVID-19 with regards to Spanish Flu?

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that an estimated 500 million people fell sick due to the Great Influenza – one-third of the world’s population back then. The death toll estimates from the pandemic ranges between 10 million to 100 million – with consensus coming at 50 million deaths. However, if you observe, all the numbers about Spanish Flu are based on estimates. That is because data collection wasn’t as accurate then, as it is right now. If we take that time’s estimates and current pandemic’s official statistics, the COVID-19 can be seen to be half as deadly as Spanish Flu. But that is highly doubtful. Despite scientific advancements in data collection, there have been aspersions raised over the real impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s look at India’s numbers: at the end of the second COVID-19 wave, India’s cumulative cases stood at 26.9 million, while the death toll stood at 307,231. But those numbers were heavily contested: in many Indian states like UP, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, there have been strong allegation of gross under-reporting of the cases. Independent estimates say that in a baseline scenario, India would have seen over 400 million cases. In a more likely scenario, the cases in the country are pegged near 550 million – which alone is more than the Spanish Flu estimates. And if it can happen in India, one can imagine how many other countries across the globe might have witnessed under-reporting. Official numbers aside, if independent estimates are true, COVID-19 has been way deadlier than Spanish Flu. A trivia: unlike COVID-19, the Spanish flu pandemic resulted in a higher-than-expected mortality rate for young adults


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