While the relatively rapid spread of the new coronavirus throughout China and a few other corners of the world could be considered somewhat alarming, I don't think the contagion itself is something for Canadians to lose any sleep over.
Humanity has faced — and overcome — far worse than this latest bug that has recently been making big headlines.
As of late last week, the death toll — which to date has all but exclusively been contained in China — had reached more than 1,300 out of about 60,000-plus confirmed cases.
That’s an approximately two-plus per cent kill rate for the novel coronavirus, now dubbed COVID-19. The flu’s rate is more than triple that, at six-plus per cent.
And nearly, but not quite everyone, who has succumbed to the disease either already suffered from pre-existing health conditions such as a compromised immune system, or were advanced in age. Only a few, considered "outliers," were under 60.
Even so, authorities are not taking the matter lightly — people in more than 10 cities in China are enduring difficult quarantines, while several Western countries have been quarantining and keeping a close eye on travellers who have recently been to China.
However, many medical professionals have at the same time been vocal in reminding the public that influenza remains a far greater and deadlier public health risk than the coronavirus.
Perhaps the most disconcerting news to emerge from the outbreak is reports of increasing xenophobic attitudes against people of Asian descent living in Western countries including Canada — individuals who have never even set foot in Wuhan, the disease’s ground zero, and some of whom are not even of Chinese heritage.
False claims seeking to scapegoat eating habits in China have been circulating, as some people seem eager to place the blame for the bug on a different culture.
Aside from the fact these assumptions are void of any credible evidence and essentially founded on prejudice, we in the West have little ground to stand on in making such egregiously erroneous judgment calls. After all, once eradicated diseases that were supposed to have been relegated to the history books, such as measles, have in the wake of the anti-vaxxer movement reared their ugly heads in recent years.
Although still early on in this most recent outbreak with experts expressing uncertainty where the situation with the coronavirus might yet go, there is no reason to anticipate the worst, and we should all just keep calm and carry on.
Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up.