Epidemics are 'often followed by racism and violent conflict', researchers warn

Rob Waugh
·2 mins read
The researchers analysed historical epidemics such as the Black Death. (Getty)
The researchers analysed historical epidemics such as the Black Death. (Getty)

The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by protest movements around the world, but there could be more severe unrest in the pipeline, a study has suggested.

Italian researchers analysed the years following epidemics such as the Black Death (1346-1353) and the Spanish Flu (1918-1920).

Professor Massimo Morelli and Roberto Censolo of the University of Ferrara noted that the years following pandemics have led to an upsurge in racial and inter-community tension, including people blaming the pandemic on minorities.

Analysing five cholera epidemics, the researchers found that there were 39 rebellions in the 10 years preceding the epidemics and 71 rebellions in the 10 years following them.

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They analysed 57 historical epidemics, and warned that while an epidemic lasts, government power tends to consolidate – but social instability and unrest rise in the aftermath.

The researchers said that during an epidemic, social unrest tends to diminish, but anti-government feeling provides a fertile ground for violence afterwards.

The researchers wrote: “The social and psychological unrest arising from the epidemic tends to crowd-out the conflicts of the pre-epidemic period, but, at the same time it constitutes the fertile ground on which global protest may return more aggressively once the epidemic is over.”

The scientists said that in historical epidemics, people have singled out government conspiracies, or even the dirt associated with poor people, as causes.

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Foreigners and immigrants are frequently blamed for spreading disease, they said.

“Overall, the historical evidence shows that the epidemics display a potential disarranging effect on civil society along three dimensions,” the authors wrote.

“First, the policy measures tend to conflict with the interest of people, generating a dangerous friction between society and institutions.

“Second, to the extent that an epidemic impacts differently on society in terms of mortality and economic welfare, it may exacerbate inequality.

“Third, the psychological shock can induce irrational narratives on the causes and the spread of the disease, which may result in social or racial discrimination and even xenophobia."

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