Why Canadians Shouldn’t Be Panicking About Coronavirus

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Coronavirus is now an official pandemic — over 183,000 people worldwide are sick, we've seen cancellations of everything from major sports leagues and tournaments to university and college classes, and the government is now warning Canadians not to travel abroad and has closed the borders to most non-citizens. Add in the sensationalist coverage in the media and no wonder we're all feeling a little bit frenzied and panicked.
But… should we be? What's the reality of coronavirus in Canada? How likely is it that you or your loved ones will contract the virus? And how can we keep each other safe? We asked the experts to break it down for us.

How Many People In Canada Have Coronavirus?

At the time of publishing, 424 people in Canada have COVID-19 and four people have died. To put that into perspective, that’s 0.001% of the Canadian population. Of the 152 people with the virus, 74% caught it from travelling outside of Canada or having direct contact with a recent traveller. But, with an increase of cases of coronavirus via community transmissions (that is, a case not connected to someone who was travelling), these numbers are likely to climb (as we say this past weekend). It’s important not to panic as cases inevitably increase, says Alison Thompson, professor of public health services at the University of Toronto, because we just don't know what will happen. “It’s hard to predict what the numbers will look like even in the next few weeks,” Thompson says. "If we all do our part, we can beat this."

Who Is The Most Vulnerable?

The Canadian Public Health Agency, which monitors and assesses the risks of human diseases and illnesses, says that there are "increased health risks for Canadian travellers abroad," as well as Canadians over the age of 65, those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Which leads us to our next point. 

Most Cases Of Coronavirus Will Be Mild

While anywhere from 30% and 70% of Canadians could become infected, according to Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu, for 80% of us, symptoms will be mild. Symptoms are similar to a cold or flu and include fever, cough, aches, and difficulty breathing. “The virus is not fun, but if you are under 60 and in good health, you will be okay,” says Thompson.
Though scientists and doctors still don’t know a lot about the virus, data from the past three months support this. According to the Center For Disease Control in the United States, most people with the virus will have mild or moderate illnesses, 15% will have symptoms that may require hospitalization, and around 5% could have critical complications.

There Are Easy Ways To Prevent The Spread Of Coronavirus

I know what you’re thinking: If cases are so mild, why is everyone worried about an outbreak? Why are schools temporarily closed and offices implementing work-from-home policies? Why has the government also announced travel restrictions? Why has the government of Ontario declared a state of emergency and the City of Toronto asked that all non-essential services, like restaurants, bars, and gyms, to close? In short, the virus is spread by close contact with others, so social distancing (avoiding large gatherings of people, etc.) will help prevent an uptick of cases. That, in turn, will limit the stress on the healthcare system, so it can support the more-serious cases that really need it. This is what's known as "flattening the curve." "Slowing the spread is crucial," says Thompson. "It will help not overwhelm the healthcare system." We like this social-distancing advice from Canada’s chief medical officer of health Theresa Tam: “Act like you are quietly carrying the virus and do everything you can to stop spreading it to others.”
Notably, the government has also started making at home-testing kits more widely available, allowing nurses and other medical professionals to take samples from your home, limiting the community spread of the virus. 

They Are Working On A Vaccine

Medicago, a biotech company in Quebec, says it has produced a potential vaccine for COVID-19, which now needs to be tested over the next few months and could be ready within the year. Meanwhile, a Canadian scientists have isolated the part of the virus responsible for the pandemic. This will help scientists around the world better understand the genetic makeup of this strain of coronavirus, and work toward treatments and vaccines. "While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus," said Dr. Samira Mubareka, microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook Research Institute.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
*This story was originally published on March 13, 2020, additional reporting was added.

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