Great Death

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The Great Death (Maurit: Li Mawaṭo Ravo), is the term given to a particularly lethal outbreak of influenza in Mauretia. The diseased ravaged the population, caused a political and constitutional crisis, and collapsed the Maureti economy. The consequences of the government and culture's response to the disease have shaped the country to this day.

Chronology

Photograph of patients in a military hospital at the Reserva Cabaota ar Tamugadi during the "Great Death."

In the 1870s, Mauretia was beginning to undergo a process of modernization, as its global trade links and burgeoning industrialization were bringing prosperity and opportunity to a growing middle class. People were moving into cities, causing their population to swell. The increased density put a strain on infrastructure. This unknowingly made the cities rife for infection spread.

In the late summer of 1873, the government received isolated reports of influenza among merchants arriving in Mauretia from abroad. By mid-September, however, the number of ill arriving from elsewhere in Uletha, where the infection had already taken hold, were spiking. Overseers were reluctant to close the ports to vital supplies and took other sequestration measures. Within three days, the virus began to spread through the coastal communities. The death toll rose quickly. As officials grappled with the illness, they ultimately closed the ports to all international shipping for two weeks, and the land borders were effectively closed for the same duration.

By 26 September, the influenza deaths were being reported away from the coast. In the interior, however, the fatality rate among young adults aged 18–35 was spiking. Scientists now believe the virus mutated during its transmission inland. This, in turn, allowed the virus to spread back toward the coast. On the first of October, doctors and government officials noted a second wave of the outbreak in the cities of Tangia, Iola, Qasarena, and Salda. The death toll climbed, and cities were uncertain of how to properly handle the mounting number of deceased bodies. Since whole families were being wiped out, many of the dead were essentially unidentifiable. Some cities took to burning the masses of bodies outside the urban areas in spite of Mauroi burial traditions that had to that point not accepted cremation.

During the second wave, however, doctors and pharmacists developed ways of minimizing and treating the symptoms. Specifically at the forefront was pharmaceutical researcher Zivi Kalis. He noticed through testing that coughing and the aerosolized mucus was the likely transmitter. Doctors began to discover that the mucus did not possess bacteria, as visible under light microscopes. Kalis postulated that something smaller was the source of the infection and started to look at ways to boost immunity through strengthening the body. He also suggested that the bodies be buried only and not burnt or thrown into the water. They believed that the microscopic entity could survive either attempt to dispose of a deceased individual. Kalis was a vocal advocate for various sanitary measures, such as having the public was wearing tightly-woven cloth masks more regularly and learning to "cover their cough" and "wash their hands." Although simple innovations, scientists now believe that the nascent understandings of virology contributed to slowing the disease spread. Kalis also discovered a few compounds from herbs and spices slowed the rate of infection. He concocted a drug from extracts of these herbs, now known as the antiviral Kalisine, that capped the symptoms in an infected person. It would take nearly forty years for scientists to understand the nature of this medicine as an antiviral.

On the fifth of October, both Queen Pitra and Prime Minister Kefa Fergana were reportedly ill from the disease only two days after meeting with other foreign dignitaries. Prince Kristoforo was rushed away from the royal palace in Sansu Andaros li Apostili and sequestered in the palace on Qolna Mauretana in hopes to prevent him from taking ill. Within two days, both the Queen and Prime Minister were dead; an ill Prince Kristoforo was crowned king in hopes to retain succession. The public was initially not notified of the two deaths to prevent an even greater panic, a political move that was later criticized.

At the end of October, the illness was gradually burning out. A few cases of the flu were still being reported into January of 1874, but the outbreak is officially considered to have ended by mid-December. The ports and other travel restrictions had been lifted by mid-November, as they were generally seen as no longer effective or needed.

Consequences

Despite its overseas origins, Mauretia was particularly ravaged by the outbreak. In the end, more than 40% of Mauretia's population had been infected by the influenza virus. The fatality rate was strikingly high, as the disease killed slightly more than one quarter of the entire country's population. While the most vulnerable populations, those under 5 and over 60, were hard hit, the population under the age of 30 suffered a dramatic reduction. Those in this age group that survived often had prolonged medical effects, such as chronic illness, debilitating pain, infertility, or severe allergies. The military, in particular, was decimated. They were the same individuals the government had called on to keep the peace in cities and facilitate remediation measures for an ill populace. Thus, they were thrown directly into the worst of the infected areas. As a result, nearly 60% of those in service perished or suffered long-term effects that forced their retirement from the military.

Immediate effects

Economic ramifications:

  • In the short-term, the Maureti economy collapsed. Built in part around trade, the closure of the ports and death of working-age individuals put pressures on an already volatile system.
  • The closures of the ports caused shortages of some strategic materials like coal. The shortages caused price spikes and rampant inflation. It also sparked a panic among the populace. The currency market began to collapse under these pressures.

Political ramifications:

  • The death of Queen Pitra and Prime Minister Kefa Fergana at the same time caused the government to effectively cease functioning on a national level. Newly-crowned King Kristoforo X was powerless.
  • One third of parliament and two of the principal justices on the national court died, further depleting the ability of the government to effectively run. This sparked a constitutional crisis, as the provinces were unable to quickly fill the vacated seats.
  • A decimated military meant that Mauretia was vulnerable to attack. The country quickly took a non-aligned stance except in the instance of its strongest ally.

Cultural ramifications:

  • The burning of bodies had been taboo in Mauretia's Christic community before the disease. It was viewed as a pagan custom, as Mauro polytheists endorsed the practice. The change was seen as necessarily initially, until scientists suggested it be stopped.
  • The traumatic events prompted an outpouring of art from paintings and music to poetry and dance. The casual cultural scene of Mauretia blossomed as people found ways to express themselves in artistic ways.
  • Church attendance rose substantially as people grappled with the crisis. The Patriarch of Tangia was quick offer whatever means necessary to help people through "the darkness from the evil one that our Lord promised we would overcome" instead of blaming sin. This spurred a religious renewal.

Long-term effects

With the government idled and the economy in ruins, the country went through a period of upheaval and strife. King Kristoforo X was weak and ineffective, as he, himself privately suffered long-lasting physical and psychological effects from a failing central nervous system. A special election to fill all the vacated seats was called, however. This allowed a functional government to be in place by April of 1874. Yet, the king remained detached from the processes of helping the country recover. Finally, in 1877 his heir, Prince Ferde was of age to accede to the throne. Parliament called for the king's abdication, and a frustrated populace upheld it in referendum. King Kristoforo X remains the last monarch to have been forcibly deposed by constitutional vote. His name has largely been stricken from the public eye. Upon his death, he was buried in a small graveyard outside Lalla Maga.

Economically, the country continued to stagnate until about 1879. King Ferde immediately instituted reforms and push for changes in the country's focus, and the economy resumed growth by 1885. Historical economist Hannah Culerio said that the crisis and lack of action under Kristoforo X set the modernization of Mauretia back by two decades. One area where Mauretia modernized quickly was in medical research. The new king heavily invested in scientific study of the disease. He sanctioned a dozen medical schools, personally funding the medical school at the Universitat Salda, and funded chemical and pharmaceutical research. Although it took a generation to realize, King Ferde's investment ushered in a new economy less reliant on international trade and more open to scientific study and advancement. Culturally, however, Mauretia underwent the greatest change. The decimated population took on new policies regarding women in the workforce, a promotion of larger families, greater investment in infrastructure, and policies of urban decentralization for key cities.

Many signs of the Great Death and its aftermath can still be seen in the country today, such as:

  • Large burial mounds from the mass graves of those killed in the outbreak; most of these are national memorial sites
  • Streets, buildings, and organizations named for the heroes of the crisis, such as Zivi Kalis and King Ferde
  • The significant number of medical and healthcare facilities, including research facilities
  • Limited number of railroads, as coal is a scarce resource in the country, and limited manpower to lay tracks in difficult terrain meant the prioritzation of certain routes; a rail-hub–road-spoke system developed
  • A three-tiered school system and publicly-funded early childhood care centers in commercial districts to help working parents
  • Decentralization of Salda, Iola, Pomalia, and other formerly-walled cities