Tuesday, 12 May 2020

How the Clarence Valley handled the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1919 - with discipline it only took around 14 weeks to eradicate that health menace

25- 26 March 2019

The Daily Examiner
, 9 May 2020, p.5:

After scouring old newspaper clippings, a Yamba researcher has some interesting insight into the similarities between two pandemics separated by more than a century. 

Using historical records accessed from the comfort of his home, John McNamara – research officer at the Port of Yamba Historical Society – has been busy piecing together the Clarence Valley response to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919. 

“What stood out was mainly the similarities between what happened then and how it has been dealt with now,” he said. 

“Closing the borders and restricting travel, it is pretty similar to what they have done now.” Using the articles from The Daily Examiner and The Clarence River Advocate, Mr McNamara was able to get a picture of how it affected different parts of the region. 

“The first case was a prisoner that came up on the ships from Sydney – then when the first case was reported in Grafton and they stopped travel,” he said. 

At the beginning of the outbreak Grafton City Council requested the Health Minister place restrictions on people coming from Sydney to Grafton by rail or steamer. 

The council wanted to prevent anyone travelling at all unless they had a “clean health certificate”. 

By the end of the outbreak Grafton Base Hospital had been “absolutely handed over” for the treatment of influenza patients, with 500 cases treated there. 

The Lower Clarence fared better, with Mr McNamara unable to find a single confirmed case in Yamba, though there were isolated outbreaks elsewhere. 

The response in the Lower Clarence began with a public meeting on February 3, 1919, where a central committee was formed and “arrangements were immediately made to combat the scourge”. 

“An isolation ward was then established at Maclean Showground and the first patient was admitted on May 20, and up to the end of that month eight patients were admitted.” He said when the quarantine centre closed in mid-August, they had treated 46 patients.“The Lower Clarence managed to escape the worst effects of the virus thanks to the swift quarantine response by the government and by the end of August 1919 was declared virus-free,” Mr McNamara said.

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