Putting COVID-19 into perspective – The history of pandemics [INFOGRAPHIC]


The COVID-19 pandemic is in its early stages so it is obviously impossible to predict its future impact.

It’s impact on our health, our economy and for those interested in property- how it will affect our property markets and the value of your and my house are still unknown.

Recently I explained the seven reasons why I’m confident in our property markets in the long term, in fact in the medium-term, despite the challenges the coronavirus is going to bring upon us.

But today I’d like to share two fantastic infographics published by Visual Capitalist that outline the history of some of the most deadly pandemics and help put the current pandemic into context.

History Of Pandemics Deadliest 1 Scaled

A Timeline of Historical Pandemics

Disease and illnesses have plagued humanity since the earliest days.

However, Visual Capitalist explain that it was not until the marked shift to agrarian communities that the scale and spread of these diseases increased dramatically.

Widespread trade created new opportunities for human and animal interactions that sped up such epidemics.

Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others first appeared during these early years.

The more civilized humans became – with larger cities, more exotic trade routes, and increased contact with different populations of people, animals, and ecosystems – the more likely pandemics would occur.

Here are some of the major pandemics that have occurred over time:

Name Time period Type / Pre-human host Death toll
Antonine Plague 165-180 Believed to be either smallpox or measles 5M
Japanese smallpox epidemic 735-737 Variola major virus 1M
Plague of Justinian 541-542 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 30-50M
Black Death 1347-1351 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 200M
New World Smallpox Outbreak 1520 – onwards Variola major virus 56M
Great Plague of London 1665 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 100,000
Italian plague 1629-1631 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 1M
Cholera Pandemics 1-6 1817-1923 V. cholerae bacteria 1M+
Third Plague 1885 Yersinia pestis bacteria / Rats, fleas 12M (China and India)
Yellow Fever Late 1800s Virus / Mosquitoes 100,000-150,000 (U.S.)
Russian Flu 1889-1890 Believed to be H2N2 (avian origin) 1M
Spanish Flu 1918-1919 H1N1 virus / Pigs 40-50M
Asian Flu 1957-1958 H2N2 virus 1.1M
Hong Kong Flu 1968-1970 H3N2 virus 1M
HIV/AIDS 1981-present Virus / Chimpanzees 25-35M
Swine Flu 2009-2010 H1N1 virus / Pigs 200,000
SARS 2002-2003 Coronavirus / Bats, Civets 770
Ebola 2014-2016 Ebolavirus / Wild animals 11,000
MERS 2015-Present Coronavirus / Bats, camels 850
COVID-19 2019-Present Coronavirus – Unknown (possibly pangolins) 4,700 (as of Mar 12, 2020)

Note: Many of the death toll numbers listed above are best estimates based on available research. Some, such as the Plague of Justinian, are subject to debate based on new evidence.

Despite the persistence of disease and pandemics throughout history, there’s one consistent trend over time – a gradual reduction in the death rate.

Healthcare improvements and understanding the factors that incubate pandemics have been powerful tools in mitigating their impact.

Tracking Infectiousness

Scientists use a basic measure to track the infectiousness of a disease called the reproduction number — also known as R0 or “R naught.”

This number tells us how many susceptible people, on average, each sick person will in turn infect.

Deadliest Pandemics R0 Disease Spread

Measles tops the list, being the most contagious with a R0 range of 12-18.

This means a single person can infect, on average, 12 to 18 people in an unvaccinated population.

While measles may be the most virulent, vaccination efforts and herd immunity can curb its spread.

The more people are immune to a disease, the less likely it is to proliferate, making vaccinations critical to prevent the resurgence of known and treatable diseases.

It’s hard to calculate and forecast the true impact of COVID-19, as the outbreak is still ongoing and researchers are still learning about this new form of coronavirus.

As I said at the beginning of today’s blog, the COVID-19 pandemic is still at its early stages and so it’s really impossible to predict its full future impact, however I hope this post and infographic help provide you a historical context.

But remember these wise words from Warren Buffet said: “Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.”

Home buyers and long term investors who have a secure job and income and pre approved finance should take advantage of any short term downturn in our property markets to set themselves up for the next phase of the property cycle.

Source: Visual Capitalist


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Michael is a director of Metropole Property Strategists who help their clients grow, protect and pass on their wealth through independent, unbiased property advice and advocacy. He's once again been voted Australia's leading property investment adviser and one of Australia's 50 most influential Thought Leaders. His opinions are regularly featured in the media. Visit Metropole.com.au

'Putting COVID-19 into perspective – The history of pandemics [INFOGRAPHIC]' have 2 comments

    Avatar for Michael Yardney

    March 16, 2020 Maximilian de Courten

    Dear Michael, thanks for writing to put COVID-19 into perspective. These infographics are little helpful and might even give us false confidence (unless your timeframe is for the next 5-10 years and your own impact is not a concern). Thinking that you might have a large readership it is worthwhile using your reach to increase alertness and compliance with the key public health messages instead – and preparing for this. That includes your upcoming seminar.
    Back to the Infographics: the first one does not include the seasonal influenza (the flu) estimated to result in about 500,000 death globally each year. So if HIV/AIDS is counted since 1981, then counting the Flu over the past 40 years would give us… 20M (and counting). The SARS virus responsible for COVID-19 is (second infographic) estimated to be twice as contagious (with no vaccine and no immunity as of yet) AND 5-10 times more lethal as the Flu… you do the numbers.
    As former staff member of WHO I’d rather come to you as leading Australian Property Investment advisor translating the pandemic into scenarios for the property market. How did the market behave during the GFC, other pandemics with significant economic fallout? What is the property market doing in Italy, Germany at the moment? Etc.
    Oh, last (more on my side of expertise: health systems): the impact of COVID-19 on health, the health system and the economy is visible right in front of our eyes. No need to say “it is obviously impossible to predict its future impact”: just look at what is happening in Italy, and other countries in Europe (if the China example is too dissimilar the situation/setting in Australia)! That is what WILL happen here if we don’t act decisively. Australia is still in a good position – let’s keep it that way!
    Best regards, Max


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