Coronavirus and the Black Death: spread of misinformation and xenophobia shows we haven’t learned from our past

Rachel Clamp, Durham University A 1411 depiction of a man and woman suffering with bubonic plague, or “Black Death”. Everett Historical/ Shutterstock…

Although some media outlets have begun referring to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus as a “modern plague”, the threat of COVID-19 remains negligible compared with historic outbreaks of plague. The latest World Health Organization report puts the coronavirus death toll at just over 3,000 globally, whereas the Black Death was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 30-50% of Europe’s population in the mid-14th century. The most disturbing similarity between the two lies not in the diseases themselves but in their social consequences. Then, as now, outbreaks were blamed on certain ethnic groups.

Coronavirus and the Black Death: spread of misinformation and xenophobia shows we haven’t learned from our past