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

Members of the Williams Lake Fire Department responded to the Salvation Army in downtown Williams Lake late Wednesday morning (Nov 25) after cleaning supplies were mixed causing a chemical reaction. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Salvation Army ventilated by Williams Lake Fire Department

Potentially dangerous chemical vapors released after cleaning products mixed

North District RCMP confirmed that Amber Wuetz, 25, was found deceased on Oct. 31. (Photo submitted)
Prince George woman confirmed dead, foul play not suspected

Police confirm Amber Wuetz was found deceased on Oct. 31

As winter gets underway the city is reminding residents of its snow and icy policy and the role residents have in clearing sidewalks and keeping vehicles and carts off the street when snow plows are in the area. (Monica Lamb-Yorski file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake reminds residents of snow and ice policy requirements

Clearing of snow and ice from sidewalks is responsiblity of property owners

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

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

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Drug overdoses lead to 5 deaths each day in October; drug toxicity continues to increase

COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

Most Read