Yellowknifer editorial: coronavirus concerns

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The issue: Coronavirus risk
We say: Don’t panic, but be prepared

Northwest Territories chief medical officer Kami Kandola should be commended for getting out the message on coronavirus.

She’s in a precarious position, responsible for providing accurate and relevant information to the public in a timely fashion but clearly needing to avoid creating panic, which can exacerbate a fluid situation or outright create a problem where there wasn’t one.

Still, the daily dose of developments in this now global story has us hungry for more information in High traffic areas such as the airport, government buildings malls and grocery stores, and more venues, like newspapers, radio, television and the internet.

The morbid task of updating the number of people who have died as a result of the virus on a daily basis – 26, 43, 56, 81 – has been a powerful reminder of how quickly information moves today.

Counting the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of 2012, the coronavirus is the third since 2002-03 to jump species from animals to humans. 

Data assembled by Global News puts the coronavirus’s fatality rate of between three and four percent between polio and whooping cough in the grand scheme of things, and significantly below the nine-to16 per-cent fatality rate among SARS cases.

We now use the term “viral” to describe the most popular and quickly spreading content online. 

It’s a bitterly ironic development in human history, one that took place after the 2003 SARS outbreak that killed 800 people worldwide, 44 of them Canadian. 

So Yellowknifers can be forgiven for being concerned that while Dr. Kandola and her colleagues in public health across Canada and around the world continue to downplay the danger posed by the coronavirus, the number of infected and dead continues to rise.

There are unprecedented numbers related to the travel bans imposed in and around Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the outbreak – 33 million people in 10 cities barred from leaving. It’s hard to ignore that there is a significant, valuable and most welcome contingent of tourists from Asia, predominantly Chinese, in Yellowknife particularly at this time of year. They’re highly visible downtown in their bright blue Canada Goose parkas, but there are confirmed infections on four continents, including in Ontario, Washington State, California, Illinois and Arizona, which means a carrier could come from anywhere now.

This is why it’s so important for public health officials at the GNWT to go heavy on preventative messaging and measures within the territory now. Make sure there is signage in appropriate places, that schools and government offices have been briefed and are alert. 

For the individual, these measures are the same recommended for flu season: washing hands frequently, coughing into your elbow, and staying home if you are sick.

There are 24 rooms that could be used to quarantine a potential coronavirus case at Stanton Territorial Hospital. Here’s to never using any of them for that purpose.

 

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