In 1911, a deadly epidemic spread through China and threatened to become a pandemic. Its origins appeared to be related to the trade in wild animals, but at the time no one was sure.
Lockdowns, quarantine measures, the wearing of masks, travel restrictions, the mass cremation of victims, and border controls were deployed to try to lower the infection rate. Yet more than 60,000 people died in modern-day northeast China, making it one of the world’s largest epidemics at the time.
When the disease was eventually brought under control, the Chinese government convened the International Plague Conference in the northern city of Shenyang — close to the epicenter of the outbreak.
In attendance were virologists, bacteriologists, epidemiologists and disease experts from many of the world’s major powers — the United States, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and France.
The purpose of the conference: Experts wanted to find the cause of the outbreak, learn which suppression techniques were most effective, discover why the disease had spread so far so fast, and assess what could be done to prevent a second wave.
Learning the lessons: As the world faces a pandemic characterized by a lack of a globally co-ordinated response and multilateral effort on the part of political leaders, the collaborative aspects of the 1911 conference in China are worth reconsidering.
Read more about the Great Manchurian Plague and global responses to it here: