‘Humans often do dumb things’: ‘Unsettling similarities’ between responses to COVID-19 and the flea-driven 14th century black death

black death opener adapt

The flea-driven plague, also known as the “Great Mortality,” overran Eurasia and North Africa from 1347 to 1353, killing tens of millions of people and wiping out half of Europe’s population.

“During the Black Death, what was really terrifying about that is they really had no idea at all what it was,” [English professor Dorsey] Armstrong said. “They had no good science to help them figure out how to cope with it.”

Still, there are some unsettling similarities between societal responses to the plague and COVID-19. In both cases, some officials tried to downplay the severity of the outbreak and the far-reaching economic and social effects. In Florence, Italy, for instance, members of the elite ruling class, decimated by the plague, faced a rebellion from the newly powerful working class, Armstrong said.


Many people, from ordinary peasants to local religious leaders, took the plague seriously and tried to carry out their normal duties. Clergy members were called to the homes of the ill to provide last rites, often contracting the disease in the process. Others, however, ignored the calamity, turning to hedonism and debauchery.

Related article:  Is it safe to go back to the gym?
Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

“What I would say is that people are the same then as now,” Armstrong observed. “Humans, when they’re together in a large group, often do dumb things. And it’s frustrating that so many people don’t seem to be learning lessons from the past.”

Read the original post

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
GLP Podcasts
Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Infographic: Here’s where GM crops are grown around the world today

Do you know where biotech crops are grown in the world? This updated ISAAA infographics show where biotech crops were ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

* indicates required
Email Lists
Send this to a friend