I’m grateful to former UK ambassador and all-round top man, Craig Murray, for reminding me about the Hong Kong Flu pandemic of 1968/9.
“Reminding” is probably too strong a word. Despite being 12 at the time, and probably catching it like 30% of the country, I have no memories of the outbreak other than a general awareness of knowing the phrase ‘Hong Kong Flu’ since then.
Nobody I knew died. If I’d known 700 people, the pandemic might have claimed at least one of them. 80,000 people – or one in 685 of the then UK population – are thought to have died from Hong Kong Flu.
In China as of mid-afternoon on 8 March, coronavirus had killed 3,101 people. That’s one in 450,000 of the country’s population.
The outbreak in China isn’t over yet, of course, though it appears to be dying down, with the number of existing confirmed cases falling and recoveries rising.
All the same, Hong Kong Flu in Britain in 1968/69 was relatively speaking 650 times more deadly than coronavirus has so far proved to be in China – let alone in Britain to-date.
And yet almost no-one is talking about Hong Kong Flu today.
No-one who was alive at the time remembers wearing a mask or the country going into meltdown.
Because it didn’t.
So why the complete hysterics over coronavirus?
I don’t think even the journalists feeding the hysteria have any idea themselves.
(Footnote: I couldn’t find original sources for this PA graphic claiming 80,000 UK deaths from Hong Kong Flu. UK national statistics don’t show a noticeable spike in deaths in ’68/9 but instead a subsequent four-year increase in mortality rates that may have been attributed to long term flu effects).
13 thoughts on “Hong Kong Flu in the UK was relatively 650 times worse than coronavirus. Remind me why we’re panicking?”
At last, another sane person.
I keep putting comments about Asian Flu and Hong Flu on youtube videos proclaiming the end of the world.
I also tell people about the Asian Flu and Hong Kong Flu and the amount of people who died, which from the information I got is Asian Flu 1957, thousands died in the U.K and 1 to 2 million world wide.
Hong Kong Flu 1969 killed 30000 in the U.K between July 69 and the end of 1970 and 2 to 4 million world wide.
I was 15 in 1969 and my first year at work, I caught the Flu and lived to tell the tale as did my parents and grandparents
There was NO panic buying, No panicking , No one wearing masks, No Lock down,No self isolation, everyone went about their lives as normal.
Fast forward to 2020 and you would think the whole world about to end even though we are not even at either of those levels of dead or infected
People who go into self isolation for 2 weeks will still have to face the virus when they come out again as the virus will last a year or more
Those events killed that many people BECAUSE there weren’t shutdowns and the modern reaction. People have learned from the past and are trying not to repeat it as this current one has a potential to put up some big numbers like the older events. It’s really not that complicated.
I think we may not have learned a lesson taught by King Knut. Mortality from coronavirus is hardly distinguishable from normal mortality because it kills mostly the same people, just slightly sooner in some cases. Similarly, mortality among younger people is little different from traffic and other accidents, etc. Worst case, around 30 in ten thousand people in the UK will die with coronavirus, and that is with the government counting scores of deaths without testing. When did 30 out of ten thousand become a big number?
The supposed figures of 100k deaths if we didn’t impose lockdown are mere conjecture. Imperial College are turning out to be outliers among epidemiologists – in fact they are mathematical biologists, which is not the same thing.
Bill, The lockdown isn’t to stop the virus it’s to slow it down, so the death toll should be around the same only over a longer period.
Don’t forget a pandemic virus is usually around for 18 months to 2 years
Meanwhile the worlds economy is going to the wall.
After the lockdown there are going to be millions without jobs, business’s closed down, people unable to pay rent or mortgage = no home.
Do you honestly think just slowing the virus down is worth all that disruption to lives ?
Or later democritus460!
As I understand it the main flu season this winter caused very few deaths.
If there had been a bad flu season there would have been many deaths of ill and /or vulnerable patients.
And fewer to die now.
As I understand it Australia had very bad flu seasons this Winter and last and so had few old and sick left to be victims of COVID1984!
Similarly if we’d had a late bout of bad flu (apparently different strains usually hot at different times of the winter and spring) that would have taken out all the old and sick that had survived through the winter!
And something else everyone forgets is population growth – after World War one it was probably nearly half what it is now, in the Sixties and Seventies maybe around 55 million compared 65 million now officially and some say 70 or 75 million including “undocumented” residents!
I was 18 in 1968 and like you, I contracted the Hong Kong Fly while at university all the way out in Montana.
My university had a student population of around 5300 students, of which around two thirds of them came down with this flu variant. It was much worse (as you stated) than what a lot of postings on the Internet have claimed. I have read death totals of between 3,000,000 to 6,000,000 deaths world-wide from this illness, though some recent articles, including from the Encyclopedia Britannica, have stated a world-wide death toll of around 1,000,000. If your information regarding the death toll of around 80,000 in the UK alone is accurate than I would go with the higher death tools I cited previously.
It took me 6 weeks to recover fully from this flu and I and all my classmates had to keep studying nonetheless for our quarterly final exams; one hour studying and 3 hours sleep in that cycle went on for around 3 weeks before my fever broke. I was terribly congested with a fever for 3 weeks but what I remember most was the sheer exhaustion from this flu.
Nonetheless, we mostly survived somehow without all the current panicking and hoarding of food stuffs and staples.
To be fair however, at least the way I understand it, the current health protocols have been put in place not because COVID-19 may not be as lethal as first suggested but that medical scientists have never come across this type of flu variant before and thus have little to no data on how to deal with it. I believe, once they get a handle on how this flu operates and then subsequently develop more equitable treatments and then a vaccine for it, things will calm down rather rapidly.
Nice smear against the BBC at the top of the page. Easy target yet still a world class public service broadcaster.
You are entitled to your opinion, of course. State broadcaster is a more applicable description than ‘public’, especially given its refusal to frame news and current affairs in any way, shape or form that does not fit into the very centre of the Overton Window. Always worth reading Chris Moore’s books on working for the World Service as a reminder that (a) there’s nothing independent about the corporation and (b) culturally, the series WIA wasn’t a parody
Gender pronouns, can you contract the virus if you identify as a Womble? Asking for a friend who doesn’t watch the BBC.
I guess it depends which Womble your friend identifies as. Orinocovid-19 would probably be the riskiest, virally speaking.
This article in the Lancet says 30 000 UK deaths for the ’68 flu.
This is consistent with them barely showing up in the annual death statistics.
We’re now about double that for “official” covid-19 deaths. One may argue whether all those deaths were actually caused by covid, but there is no arguing with the number of excess deaths and _something_ certainly caused them.
For England+Wales the stats (ONS) are : Total deaths by week 48, 2020 = 550k. Total deaths for whole year (average 2015-2019) = 531k. I.e. we are already19k in excess, and normally about 40k will die in the last 4 weeks of the year, so looking at around 60k excess deaths for the whole year.
Hence it is now looking like covid is about twice as dangerous as Hong Kong flu.
The official Government figure for the 1969 Hong Kong flu was 85000 [UK population then was 57 million]
and total world deaths were up to 4 million
For the 1957 Asian flu pandemic the figures were 33000 deaths out of a population of 55 million and up to 2 million world wide.[world population for both was 4 billion]
There were also far less people kept artificially alive then as well, average age of death was 70 in 1969 now it’s 83
the 1918 pandemic killed 285000 in the UK and 50 to 100 million world wide out of a world population of 1.8 billion