Lockdown 100 years on: How Spanish flu gripped Norfolk a century ago
- Credit: Archant Library
After the death and destruction of the First World War the globe was struck by another crisis: the Spanish flu pandemic.
But how did the disease impact life in Norfolk?
Diving into the Eastern Daily Press archives the newspapers at the time paint a picture of limited lockdown measures compared to the ones we have lived through 100 years on during the coronavirus pandemic.
They might have unfolded a century apart but the newspaper coverage of the Spanish flu feels vaguely familiar in 2021.
Death toll estimates for the First World War range from 15-22 million people. Figures on the National Archives tell us that 886,000 British soldiers did not return from the conflict.
But the armed forces who were returning brought Spanish flu with them.
The influenza epidemic of 1918 earned this name not because it originated from the Iberian Peninsula, which is unlikely. Instead Spain - as a neutral country with fewer restrictions on newspaper reporting at the time - covered the fallout more freely and the first reported cases emerged there.
Estimates put the global death toll from the disease at 50 million with one-quarter of the British population affected.
- 1 McDonald's branch to close for up to three months
- 2 'I ran for my life' - Neighbour who saw fatal row tells of terror
- 3 Man dies after 'industrial incident' at farm
- 4 Mental health hospital owed £2m to staff and creditors when it shut
- 5 Four fish and chip shops listed among the best in the country
- 6 Father stabbed to death 'after argument about motorbike noise'
- 7 Hospital to close with loss of 120 jobs
- 8 Murder victim is named as accused under armed guard in hospital
- 9 Tributes to 'well-known, well-liked, well-respected' King's Lynn fan
- 10 Smokehouse to be showcased on BBC One’s Antiques Road Trip
But what do the archives tell us of those times and how the people of Norfolk lived through them?
Reports on death tolls from around the world and then the UK poured in as the disease spread from cities to rural areas.
Medical advice for mitigating the spread of influenza punctuated the pages. Readers were advised to isolate if showing symptoms, ventilate enclosed spaces, take personal precautions like using handkerchiefs to prevent droplets from spreading and gargle in the morning and evenings.
Several schools and businesses had to close across the county. Back then this tended to be because staff were incapacitated by the flu rather than a legal obligation.
Cinemas were a notable public space where limited closures were enforced but eventually removed.
There were concerns that medical supplies and provisions were inadequate. Rationing lingered so components such as alcohol for disinfectant ran low.
The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital closed its doors to visitors with limited exceptions.
And even as the influenza pandemic wound down there were concerns about the health implications left in the wake of the disease.
The Spanish flu of 1918 and the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 might be more than a century apart and this is not a simple case of history repeating itself. But the archives show that we do share several experiences with our forebears 100 years ago.
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