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Whitianga’s first lockdown

By Stan Stewart

Covid-19 lock down was Whitianga’s second lockdown.

November 1918 was the first.

At the close of the World War One, a terrible scourge ravaged the world. It killed 25 million people worldwide, more than twice the number (10 million) killed in the First World War. This terrible scourge has been called the Spanish Flu. That name is a misnomer, as the flu did not originate in Spain and is more correctly named, the Black Influenza.

This flu( influenza) entered New Zealand with the soldiers returning from the War in 1918. Whitianga was vulnerable because it was a port. This led to Whitianga’s immediate isolation. The people most vulnerable to this flu were aged between 18 and 46. In all, there were eleven cases In Whitianga, 4 men and 7 women. Nine of these cases were from Whitianga township and two from outlying farms. Three of the infected people died.

Most of the rural people stayed put on their farms and as it worked out, this was the best defence against the flu. Access in and out of the town was restricted. Roadblocks were set up on the edge of the town. All persons wanting to leave or enter the town had to have a good reason for doing so. More than this, their health was assessed, visually and principally the taking of the person’s temperature was. Done down to each person.

In the town of Whitianga, extraordinary measures were taken to keep the flu at bay. One resident, Jessie Hodge required all of her family to wear a block of camphor. Camphor was condensed and pressed into blocks which emitted pungent fumes. It was thought that these fumes kept the nasal passages clear, and this reduced the likelihood of infection.

Outside the Post Office, on a brazier, sulphur was burnt on hot coals. It was thought that the fumes emitted could kill or counteract the flu virus. Children were required to go the brazier and stand in the fumes twice every day.

The town of Coromandel had no cases of the flu at all. This was because of the actions of the town’s Health Officer, Major Lovel Gregg. He had all three roads into the town closed with bolted barriers. These were manned to ensure that during this period there were no entries or exits to the town.

None of us enjoyed our recent lockdowns. So, we grumbled and complained. But it was all in a good cause, and it has been done before. When an epidemic threatens it must be taken seriously. Our district leaders in 1917 have shown us the way. Their contemporaries were thankful and so are we.

Source: Saltspray & Sawdust – Janet Riddle


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