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

Officials for Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project named

Project is estimated to cost $450 million

Letter to the editor: I stand with them

Hazelton resident shares his perspective on why he supports the Wet’suwet’en

Terrace cab stolen, found destroyed along Hwy 16 riverbank at rest stop

Driver was sent to Prince Rupert hospital after stealing the running vehicle from company lot

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

VIDEO: Feds warned agricultural sector near ‘tipping point’ due to blockades

Canadian Federation of Agriculture points to lack of propane and feed due to Coastal GasLink dispute

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

B.C. Liberals call for assistance on soaring strata insurance rates

NDP’s Carole James says problem is across the country

‘Intemperate, insulting’: B.C. teacher reprimanded for online comments about religion

John William Yetman made the comments in response to a Facebook invitation to Open Mosque Day B.C.

Most Read