Spooky pictures of Plague Doctors from the past are an important reminder that the use of Personal Protective Equipment by medical staff is nothing new. The floor length robes, thick gloves and masks may not have been as effective as our more modern equipment but at least they were on the right lines. If only they had known about the need for cleanliness too.
Sadly 2020 isn’t the first time that a nasty virus has brought chaos to Carmarthen. A quick glance over our historical records reveals that plague and pestilence have visited us many times in the past. Inevitably the details are pretty sketchy but we know the first recorded pandemic in Wales took place in the sixth century.
In 526AD, St Brioc of Brittany came to Ceredigion and wrote that the whole region was “overwhelmed by a great catastrophe” known as Y vad velen (the yellow plague). A second devastating outbreak in 537 was described by St Teilo’s biographer as crossing the country like a “column of a watery cloud”.
Better reported are the outbreaks of plague that killed one in ten of Carmarthen’s population in 1604 and which paid us return visits in 1606, 1611, 1651 and 1657. The worst recorded outbreak in South Wales was in Tenby in 1650 when 500 people died from a population of less than 1,000.
Long before scientists had discovered the need for social distancing it was reported that the mayor had to employ people to bring food supplies to be left at the town’s boundaries as nobody would dare to enter the plague-ridden town in case they too were affected.
In more modern times 1918’s outbreak of Spanish Flu claimed more than eleven thousand lives in Wales including an estimated 150 soldiers in military hospitals in Carmarthenshire. I cannot trace sickness rates among the civilian population but around 4% of those affected died of the illness.
Horrible though all of these epidemics were we do know that we did eventually recover and life went back to normal. So it will be with Covid-19 thanks to the sterling efforts of those who care for us in hospital and the community. We can all be sure that he temporary inconvenience we are all suffering will one day be little more than a footnote in history.
The Creepy Carmarthen Tour will return as soon as social restrictions are lifted.