The truth behind the Coronavirus hysteria

Why Queen’s students should worry less and have more empathy

Image by: Amelia Rankine
Despite the virus' fast transmissibility

Coronavirus has rocketed to the top of news headlines since the discovery of a new strain of the virus in the central Chinese City of Wuhan in early December of 2019. The new strain was named “2019-nCoV”—2019 for when it emerged, for novel (meaning new), and CoV for Coronavirus.

Like other coronaviruses, novel Coronavirus is primarily spread through close contact and through droplet transmission (where someone who’s coughing or sneezing launches viral particles into the air).

Symptoms include fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Compared to other coronavirus outbreaks like SARS and MERS, nCoV is less deadly, with a fatality rate around two to three per cent, but has an equal or greater transmissibility.

Despite its fast transmissibility, there’s no need to panic. Currently, the seasonal flu poses a greater risk to your health than nCoV. For a young, healthy individual living in a developed nation with a robust healthcare system, the risk is very low. From what we know of the fatalities caused by the virus, more than 80 per cent of them are over 60 years old, and more than 75 per cent had underlying diseases. Those dying from nCoV are not college-age students.

Because nCoV isn’t typically infecting young, healthy people, it’s predicted not to trigger an apocalyptic scenario. 

To stay healthy, take the same precautions you would during any flu season. Wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, cough into your sleeve, avoid close contact with those who are sick, and get your flu shot. Take care of your immune system by getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and eating healthily.

In the case that nCoV becomes a pandemic, there are some additional steps to protect yourself. Wear gloves or mittens when you go out, washing your hands when you take them on or off. Avoid crowded places such as buses and nightclubs whenever possible. In your home, clean towels and doorknobs regularly.

When it comes to wearing a mask, health professionals have mixed opinions. However, the consensus is that it’s probably not effective and instead to avoid close contact with those who are sick. Most masks worn by non-medical professionals are surgical masks and aren’t designed to keep out viral particles.

Masks worn by those treating the outbreak, N95 Masks, are designed to protect against viruses but aren’t recommended for daily use, as they’re expensive, make breathing difficult, and need to be fitted correctly to be effective. 

It’s still too early to predict the outcome of the nCoV epidemic, with leading experts still uncertain about how far it’ll spread. One thing we do know, however, is that the risk for young, healthy individuals in developed nations is low. So, if you’re reading this, you’ll most likely be just fine.

It’s important to remember that while you may be okay during this epidemic, not everyone will be. The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems are at an increased risk from nCoV. Additionally, those in developing countries or those without access to healthcare will be disproportionally affected.

In this epidemic, as with so many other such disasters, it’ll be those who already have few resources who will be hit the hardest. Nations without well-funded disaster response programs or robust medical facilities could become overwhelmed if nCoV takes a turn for the worst. 

Recently, there’s also been a troubling trend of fear around nCoV manifesting itself in ways that ostracize certain individuals and communities. When reporters blame a population or culture for an outbreak, encourage quarantine of a certain race or group of persons, or portray certain individuals as ‘unsanitary,’ it only increases discrimination and fear. Historically, pandemic fear-based policies that resulted in racist or discriminatory actions have only exacerbated the crisis at hand.

The global community has a better chance of resolving the epidemic if we don’t let fear cloud our judgement, if we fight against discrimination and profiling, and if we care for those around us.

Our hearts go out to those on the frontlines of this epidemic: the doctors and caregivers who work around the clock in challenging conditions, those who live isolated in the quarantine zone, and those with family and loved ones affected by the crisis.

To solve this epidemic, we can’t forget our empathy.


health and safety, Safety

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