Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveller from Wuhan. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveller from Wuhan. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

The coronavirus moved uncomfortably closer to B.C. last week, with one confirmed case in the Seattle area, and another suspected case in Vancouver.

And while that is reason for concern, it is certainly no reason for panic.

The numbers add to a growing list of individuals now confirmed to have contracted this new and potentially deadly respiratory illness.

At writing, nearly 900 cases had been identified worldwide, resulting in 26 deaths.

Despite a colossal effort in China to contain the outbreak to the city of Wuhan where it was first reported, the disease has spread.

Health officials – both here and internationaly – have yet to label the outbreak an “international health emergency”.

But that may change.

This latest virus is part of the same family responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

That outbreak, which came from China in 2002, was blamed for 44 deaths in Canada and more than 800 worldwide.

This latest outbreak comes at a dangerous time in China. The Lunar New Year is usually a time of travel, where families attempt to spend time together.

That’s not happening in at least 10 cities where China has imposed a quarantine affecting over 30 million people.

The fear is that human-to-human spread could accelerate transmission of the disease faster than efforts to contain it.

And while we have been fortunate in past outbreaks like SARS and the similar MERS a few years ago, the potential for disaster is real.

Just last year the world marked the centenary of the 1918 influenza outbreak. The spread of that disease, believed to have sprung from the mud and trenches of the First World War, was aided by demobilization. It would eventually kill more people worldwide (40 to 50 million) than the war itself.

Since then our understanding of disease transmission and our ability to respond has improved dramatically. Even China has responded much more aggressively to this outbreak than it did to the 2002/03 SARS outbreak.

There is a fine line health officials must walk between being cautious and alarmist.

Already in Vancouver there are reports that filter masks, normally used for construction, are being snapped up by concerned residents. There are stories, too, about people curtailing travel plans to China.

READ MORE: No travel ban, temperature checks for Wuhan travellers as coronavirus spreads to Canada

Vancouver International Airport, meanwhile, has been identified as one of three likely Canadian entry points for the disease. Although YVR has yet to introduce cameras that can detect elevated body temperatures like some U.S. airports, it is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to introduce several new measures. Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms, for example, must report that information to a customs officer. There is additional signage, and airport staff have stepped up cleaning of key areas.

But as health officials point out, the best defence against this or any other virus begins with the simple precautions we can take, like washing our hands and coughing or sneezing into our sleeve.

The coronavirus is concerning because we have never seen it before.

However, we do see viruses all the time. The common flu kills up to 650,000 people every year (mostly our most vulnerable), according to the World Health Organization.

There are simple steps we can all take to prevent the spread of these viruses, like vaccinations, proper hygiene, and staying away from others when we are sick.

The coronavirus outbreak is reminder of the importance of these steps.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

df
VIDEO: Late-night rollover crash on Lougheed Highway in Mission sends 2 to hospital

Jaws of Life used; patients sustained non-life threatening injuries

Highway 1 eastbound has one lane closed as crews worked to clear up an accident earlier this afternoon.
Accident shuts down one lane eastbound on Highway 1 in Abbotsford

Major congestion between Riverside Road and Sumas exit

Alan Pryor in 2015, during the Agassiz Fire Department’s 70th year. (Greg Laychak/The Observer)
Agassiz fireman celebrates 51 years at the hall

Al Pryor has been a key member in the Agassiz Fire Department since he was 16

Scales of Justice
Court awards woman $167K after vehicle was struck by White Rock taxi in 2016

Plaintiff’s knee injuries and resulting chronic pain disability are genuine, judge rules

Mike Bismeyer of Abbotsford is the recipient of the national Savita Shah Award for his work promoting kindness and anti-bullying initiatives.
Abbotsford man who was bullied as a teen receives national kindness award

Mike Bismeyer is one of two Canadians to earn Savita Shah Award

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Burnaby Mounties responded to 56 complaints and issued 10 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 restrictions in February. (Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)
COVID denier fined $2,300 for hosting gathering in her home: Burnaby RCMP

The woman told Mounties she does not believe the pandemic is real

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read