In the summer of 1830, Russia was experiencing one of its worst pandemics. Cholera spread far and wide. A sip of contaminated water or a little unwitting touch of sewage will make people sick–diarrhea, vomiting, shock and death quickly followed. The tsar imposed quarantines and travel restrictions and cordons guarded by the military on many cities along the Volga River. Drinking non-boiled water was a criminal offense, eating a fruit was an illegal activity, and passing a barrier without a pass was shot at. Since the cause of cholera was largely unknown, many extreme measures–usually chlorine–were used to fumigate and wash the quarantined people and their residence.
Rumors and antagonisms against minorities and foreign travelers were rampant, accusing them of poisoning the wells and spreading the disease. Soon all kinds of hell broke out and the collected madness resulted in the cholera riot in November at a town not far from Moscow when mobs raided local hospitals to kill the doctors and to free the patients, after which they attacked police stations. Military had to be called in to suppress the unrest. After this, many violent unrest happened all over Russia. One year later, the cholera finally died down, after claiming about a quarter million lives.
This is the beginning chapter from “The King Of Vodka” by Linda Himelstein about one of the typical pandemics happened in the past. Reading this makes one feel better about the current pandemic–at least such hysteria hasn’t happened and such violence is no longer common.
I can observe the damage the pandemic has done to the local small businesses–restaurants, dry cleaners, community newspapers, convenient stores etc. There used to be so many community newspapers that the entrances to the grocery stores are scenes of paper riots, but now there are only a few–many such small businesses just disappear into the oblivion without a sound. My favorite convenient store was gone several months ago. The dry cleaner I went to has very few patrons now, unlike in the past when the waiting line went from the store to the curb. The most frustrating scene is at the restaurants. I wonder how many small business restaurants will survive the current onslaught. Those big restaurant chains probably can survive–I don’t know–since they can afford to erect big tents outside and their space inside is bigger. Also the big corporations may have financing resources that help them survive the leaner time. For small businesses, it is a death blow. How many people would dare to start an Asian restaurant from now on? The new restaurant renovation takes fifty thousand dollars easily and often go up to eighty thousand or more, even for a modest place. What if another pandemic comes and all these investments would be lost?
I heard that the next pandemic is very likely to come sooner rather than later, and it is described in the new book “The Premonition” by Michael Lewis. I have read his “Liar’s Poker”, “boomerang”, and “The Fifth Risk” and liked them very much, although I dislike “The New New Thing”, which for some reason loses the customary irony that makes Michael Lewis’ books so interesting.
I really want to know the prediction people have for the next pandemic. And I hope another pandemic is preventable.