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Coronavirus, should you be worried?

Ways to protect yourself from coronavirus is by following basic hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene such as sneezing or coughing into your elbow, not hands.
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With the recent news surfacing about confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases identified in Canada, this has left many with one substantial question, should we be worried?

Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) falls under a family of viruses that range from the common cold to more critical diseases like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome MERS-CoV) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome SARS-CoV). Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Although there is no specific treatment for the virus, symptoms can be managed.

In late December of 2019, a novel strain of the coronavirus began to spread like wildfire in the city of Wuhan, China, which is home to just over 11 million citizens. The Municipal Health Commission in the province of Hubei released a statement informing the public that they had an outbreak of pneumonia of an unknown cause. The virus is believed to have stemmed from a seafood and poultry market which is also known to have sold wild animals. 

Coronaviruses are said to be zoonotic which means they are transferred between animals and humans. This was the case for MERS-CoV which detailed research has indicated is transmitted from camels to humans, and SARS-CoV which after extensive research from its birthplace, China, detected sequences of the virus in bats, monkeys, masked palm civets and snakes.

After contracting the virus it can be transmissible between humans and to date those infected range in the 40 to 60 age range, excluding one nine month old infant in Beijing. Minister in charge of China's National Health Commission (NHC), Ma Xiaowei, said from observations it is believed the virus is capable of being transmitted even during the incubation period which is anywhere from one to 14 days.

One hospital is said to be constructed to foster relief to overcrowded hospitals, a lack of medical equipment, shortage of test kits and protective gear. New reports have surfaced indicating that there will now be two hospitals built about 25 miles apart. The Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital is due to open February 3, accommodating 1,000 beds while the Leishenshan Hospital is scheduled to open February 5, accommodating 1,300 beds. Workers and volunteers have since converted an empty building in the city's Huangzhou district into a 1,000 bed emergency facility to deal with the rising number of cases.

As of January 30, China's NHC state media released that more than 9,600 individuals have fallen victim to coronavirus with 213 lives claimed in China. In hopes of containing the outbreak, Chinese authorities have closed off Wuhan by cancelling planes and trains leaving the city and suspending buses, subways and ferries within it. At least 12 other cities in the Hubei province have issued travel restrictions.

The numbers continue to surge and cases have now been confirmed in at least 20 other countries including Canada, the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, UAE, Finland, India, Italy and the Philippines. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus an international health emergency.

What we know so far in Canada

  • January 25, the Government of Ontario reports the first case of coronavirus in Canada. A man who had been in Wuhan.
  • January 28, the man's wife is confirmed as the second case of coronavirus in Canada.
  • January 28, the Government of British Columbia reported a presumable third case of coronavirus in Canada, later confirming Canada's third case of the virus on January 30.
  • 250 Canadians have registered to the Government of Canada that they are in China's Hubei province, and roughly 160 are requesting aid to return home.
  • January 29, Foreign Affairs Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne says a plane has been secured to repatriate Canadians.

While the outbreak continues to swiftly spread, numerous air carriers have began suspending flights to mainland China including Air Canada, American Airlines, United Airlines, KLM and Lufthansa.

On the horizon, airline workers, travellers and the general population will soon feel the repercussions of coronavirus within Canada.

"Safety is WestJet's top priority and we are committed to providing our guests and WestJetters a safe travel and work environment. We have been closely monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak and have provided proactive communications to all employee groups on effective preventative measures as recommended by the Centres for Disease Control, WHO and Transport Canada," said WestJet spokesperson, Lauren Stewart.

Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu was eager to put Canadians at ease by saying via a press conference that the Government of Canada is working closely with provincial and territorial counterparts and international partners since learning of China's first reported 2019-nCoV cases to ensure our country is prepared to limit the spread in Canada. She added Canadian hospitals have strong infection control systems and procedures in place to limit the spread of infection and protect health care workers.

The most severe influenza pandemic to date was back in 1918. The H1N1 virus or Spanish Flu, infected 500 million people - one third of the worlds population at the time - and caused anywhere from an estimated 20 to 100 million deaths. It is difficult to understand the exact number seeing as simpler times called for simpler measures in containing medical records.

The information on coronavirus though vague at times but plentiful, can be interpreted indefinitely. It now falls upon us to continue to be educated, continue to take precautions and continue to decide whether or not, we should be worried.