Gaining perspective around the coronavirus

Shouldn’t we be more concerned about catching the flu?

Gaining perspective around the coronavirus

In browsing news sites every day -- always in the morning, sometimes after lunch and often in the evening -- it’s hard to escape the coverage of the coronavirus.

Not that I don’t want read about the issue, but news outlets keen to satisfy reader appetite, while boosting online traffic, are tackling the story from every angle. And sometimes it gets to be too much.

The hardest part is gaining perspective. At this point, the death count pales in comparison to seasonal flu. And while I don’t doubt its contagious threat, especially since people may have the virus but not have the symptoms, so far it has not impacted Canada in a big way.

Of course, it brings back memories of the SARS epidemic back in 2003. I remember that year well as my son was born in November and there were tight restrictions around visitors to the hospital. Only two people at a time could come by, which was a challenge for many families used to showing up en masse when a baby was born. (It also caused some tension with the in-laws as we decided my parents should be the first to visit.)

We covered the SARS epidemic in several stories, looking at issues such as employee concerns about on-the-job safety, quarantines and income-replacement coverage, along with crisis management in health care and work-sharing agreements with hotels.

More recently, there was the outbreak of the H1N1 flu in 2009, where we looked at the importance of pandemic plans and business continuity planning.

Sadly, these types of “events” seem to be happening more frequently. And while the communication and containment efforts improve each time, it’s hard not be somewhat alarmed at the prospect of a true pandemic hitting Canada, with quarantines similar to those imposed in China.

Those thoughts aren’t helped by a friend telling me he’s concerned about the lack of face masks available online, while my son, somewhat jokingly, plans an escape route to the cottage should the plague hit Toronto.

For now, as before, people are being warned to wash their hands diligently, and of course if they exhibit any alarming symptoms, to contact health services immediately.

Really, it’s similar to how people should be behaving during flu season: Practising good hygiene, staying home when you’re really sick (hopefully with help from a generous sick leave policy), and getting the flu shot. Remote work options also make a lot of sense when necessary.

Those precautions make sense when the World Health Organisation (WHO) says worldwide, the seasonal flu is estimated to result in about three to five million cases of severe illness, and about 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths.

The words of experts such as William Schaffner, a vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, are also somewhat comforting: "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there's just no comparison,” he told Kaiser Health News (KHN). “Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial.”

Latest stories