Prof. Alon Klivenov is a renowned historian and lecturer in universities throughout Israel and internationally. Israel Today spoke to him in an effort to better understand the coronavirus pandemic that has brought the Jewish state and over 100 other nations to a near standstill.
A brief history of pandemics
Throughout history epidemics and pandemics have always accompanied the human race. The Bible also has many manifestations of epidemics called plagues.
Pericles, an Athenian ruler whose death changed history died of an epidemic that attacked Greece.
In the 2nd century AD, there was a terrible epidemic that killed many millions of people in the Roman Empire.
In the Byzantine Empire, in the 6th century, there was an epidemic that killed 40% of the population.
In Japan, in the 8th century, there was an epidemic that killed about a third of the population.
The ultimate example is the Black Death of the 14th century. This pandemic impacted politics, society, economics, military and religion. There was no part of life that was not affected by the disease.
The spread of and impact of epidemics
A bacterium or virus originates from another land and spreads on ships or other trade routes. When the micro-organisms arrive, they kill multitudes in a population that has never experienced these diseases are unable to deal with them. For example, when the Spanish arrived in America, they carried bacteria that killed a huge percentage of the local population.
Epidemics also have an impact on culture. Churches were constructed to stop the plague. In the middle of Vienna, there stands a pillar that was built to stop the scourge. In Venice, too, there are many churches that have been erected to combat epidemics.
Epidemics also pushed forward science, a better understanding of the human body and biology, as well as ecology. They served as an incentive to seek knowledge as a necessity, rather than as a mere curiosity.
In the 20th century there is no doubt that the worst epidemic of all was the Spanish influenza. This is the same virus that is related to the “swine flu” of 2009. There are estimates that Spanish flu affected half a billion people, about a quarter of the world’s population at that time. No one knows the exact number of dead, and estimates range from 17 to 100 million.
In Dr. Klivenov’s opinion, no one knows what the outcome of the current pandemic will be, including members of the World Health Organization and senior officials of the Israel Ministry of Health.
As a historian, Dr. Klivenov says that there are epidemics that ended suddenly, and others that ended gradually. In his expert opinion, there is no way to know beforehand how the current situation will be resolved.