Novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading fear around the globe
There’s a lot to be concerned about.
It has been two months since the world learned of the novel coronavirus outbreak crippling the city of Wuhan, the capital of the province of Hubei, in central China.
And it wasn’t long before the flu-like respiratory illness, COVID-19, broke out of that country and began to wreak havoc around the world, infecting people in more than 60 countries, including in the Caribbean, with the region’s first cases showing up in the Dominican Republic as well as in St. Bartélemy and St. Maarten.
Algeria became the first African country to report infections on the continent.
Now Canada, where the confirmed cases are in the mid twenties, with one so far in the Montreal area, is preparing for the World Health Organization to declare that we are in the midst of a pandemic.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the world was in “uncharted territory” as we battle the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 90,000 people across 73 countries and territories by the first week of March.
Still, the global health watchdog, hesitant to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, will definitely change the dynamics of how countries respond to the disease.
According to the WHO a pandemic occurs when a disease has spread at a significant rate across multiple countries, on multiple continents, or worldwide.
The last identified pandemic in the world was the H1N1 flu in 2009, which killed hundreds of thousands. Other notable ones include:
• Spanish flu that killed 40-50 million people in 1918.
• Asian flu that killed 2 million people in 1957.
• Hong Kong flu that killed 1 million people in 1968.
The numbers and scope of COVID-19 so far are frightening enough:
As of March 2, 91,000 people from 65 countries have been stricken. There have been an estimated 3,125 deaths and close to 50,000 are listed as fully recovered.
China, with more than 80,000 cases, South Korea (4800), Italy (2000) and Iran (1500) carry the bulk of those infected.
COVID-19 also found fertile ground on board a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess that was left stranded in Japan. More than 700 travellers who were left to marinate in the stew of the coronavirus in the close confines of the ship, were infected before the authorities mercifully allowed them off.
With the rapid spread of COVID-19 to even the most remote areas of the world, the WHO has designated the disease an “international health emergency” and elevated the global risk level to “very high.”
Designations aside, Canada is readying itself for the big “P” declaration.
In a recent CBC report, Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious diseases specialist said a basic premise of any public health pandemic plan is “social distancing,” which means heightens the likelihood of closing schools and universities and cancelling public gatherings.
In that same report, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam was quoted as saying that pandemic plans have been developed already but are easily adaptable to whatever the corona virus situation brings.
“There are going to be some tough decisions that health systems have to make when there are a lot of patients, including prioritizing your beds for those who are most in need. You may need to cancel elective surgeries and that type of thing.”
In Montreal, preparations are in place to deal with the probably impending outbreak.
The Jewish General is one of two designated response hospitals in Montreal, along with St. Justine’s Children Hospital.
A portion of one floor at the Jewish was renovated in 2016 to handle pandemic diseases following an outbreak of Swine Flu.
And it’s now ready to accommodate patients in the event of a major outbreak.
Twenty-four rooms in the hospital’s K Pavillion are equipped with specialized ventilation systems designed to ensure virulent diseases can’t spread. While the rooms are used day-to-day as part of the hospital’s neurology department, they can be pressed into service as a quarantine unit should the need arise.
Louise Miner, director of professional services at the hospital, was quoted as saying that
“All 24 rooms have the capacity for negative pressure. The rooms are special because negative pressure means the air around the patient is being sucked out of the room faster than you’re pumping air into the room. That air is filtered and evacuated, it’s not re-circulated anywhere in the institution.”
Opinions from experts range from somewhat optimistic to downright bleak.
“I hope this outbreak may be over in something like April,” Prof. Nanshan Zhong, a leading epidemiologist who was the first to describe SARS coronavirus was quoted as saying on
However, Prof. Marc Lipsitch, a professor of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, Head, Harvard Ctr. Communicable Disease Dynamics, was less positive, is quoted as saying: “This is really a global problem that’s not going to go away in a week or two.
What makes this one perhaps harder to control than SARS is that it may be possible to transmit before you are sick.
I think we should be prepared for the equivalent of a very, very bad flu season, or maybe the worst-ever flu season in modern time.”
He also struck an even scarier chord: “I think it is likely we will see a global pandemic. If a pandemic happens, 40% to 70% of people worldwide are likely to be infected in the coming year. What proportion is asymptomatic, I can’t give a good number.”
An attack of the coronavirus can trigger mild symptoms to being severely ill and dying.
Symptoms can include: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Other findings on COVID-19 so far:
• 80.9% of infections are mild (with flu-like symptoms) and can recover at home.
• 13.8% are severe, developing severe diseases including pneumonia and shortness of breath.
• 4.7% as critical and can include: respiratory failure, septic shock, and multi-organ failure.
• In about 2% of reported cases the virus is fatal.
• Risk of death increases the older you are.
• Relatively few cases are seen among children.
The severity of the disease and the risk of dying are elevated among people with pre-existing illnesses that include: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and hypertension.
Reports in the National Post newspaper show what may be the beginning of panic buying among Canadians across the country following the the advise Canada’s health minister Patty Hadju encouraged people to stockpile supplies in case of a coronavirus outbreak.
According to the newspaper Canadians were already reporting shortages of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, meat, canned goods and food staples such as bread and eggs as photos showed long lines and rows upon rows of empty shelves. Also at Toronto Costco locations, employees were wiping carts with disinfectant wipes as customers entered the store.