Coronavirus vs Black Death: Which is worse? COVID-19 or the bubonic plague?

Since the latest coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019, more than 100,000 people have been infected. Of these people, 3,646 people have died, yet despite the number of worldwide cases continuing to increase every day, the World Health Organization has not declared the latest COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

There is not a set definition for a pandemic, but a virus is thought to become a pandemic when it becomes prevalent across the world.

Coronavirus has been classified as an epidemic, as the majority of coronavirus cases have been reported in China.

But the rapidly increasing number of cases in other countries, such as Iran, South Korea and Italy, have prompted fears the virus could soon become a pandemic.

So how does the COVID-19 outbreak compare to one of the worst outbreaks in human history, the Black Death?


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What was the Black Death?

The Black Death was an epidemic of plague which swept through Europe in the 14th century.

As far as we know, the Black Death originated in China, before spreading through the Middle East to Europe through trade routes in Italy.

The plague dramatically reduced the European population, with some experts predicting up to 60 percent of the population were wiped out.

The plague spread to humans by vermin, like rats and mice.

The bacterium Yersinia pestis causes a number of plagues, and is usually spread by fleas on animals which can pass on the bacteria.

Plague still exists today, but it is now better understood how to effectively treat the disease.

Much of the world has witnessed a plague epidemic at some point, but most cases in the modern day occur in Africa.

The three most endemic countries for plague today are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Peru.


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Is COVID-19 worse than the Black Death?

At this time, the latest COVID-19 outbreak looks to have a much lower fatality rate than the Black Death.

According to the World Health Organization, the Black Death of the 14th century killed more than 50 million people.

The bubonic plague, the most common form of plague, was characterised by swollen lymph nodes or ‘buboes’.

People infected with the bubonic plague had a 50 percent chance of death.

Of the 107,351 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 3,646 people have died as of March 8.

In total, 60,558 people have recovered from the virus, and experts believe the latest coronavirus has a fatality rate of between one and three percent.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK government’s “very best assessment” was that the mortality rate was “two percent or, likely, lower”.

Other outbreaks of recent years appear to have had much higher fatality rates than COVID-19.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 is thought to have had a fatality rate of some 11 percent.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak of 2012 had an estimated fatality rate of 34 percent.

In comparison to the Black Death of the 14th century, the latest COVID-19 outbreak has also caused much fewer deaths.

It is also the case that less people have been infected with COVID-19 than the plague.

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