I thought it was time I weighed in on the recent Corona Virus, or COVID-19, as it is now called. I was scheduled to fly to Korea tomorrow, but decided to postpone my trip because of all the hype associated with this new pandemic. I am not too concerned about contracting the disease, because, like most countries, Korea has closed its borders to anyone from China, and the overall risk is low. My fear lies in catching a common cold or flu, and being treated like an infectious carrier from person zero.
Before I postponed my trip, I decided to do a fair bit of research into the virus and how it managed to infect more than 60,000 (as of today) and kill over 1,400 individuals. Nearly 2,000 medical workers have been infected, cruise ships are stuck in ports or at sea, face mask manufactures are making a fortune, and a cure is not in sight.
So what exactly is the COVID-19 virus? It is a strain of SARS, but appears to spread much more rapidly. Although the death toll in SARS was a higher percentage, the total number of deaths world-wide did not exceed 775. The Ebola crisis of West Africa, which happened while I was in Namibia, was responsible for 50% of infected individuals perishing. A number, which is now over 10,000. The Asian flu, a few years ago, took 2 million lives and the Spanish Flu (1918) infected over half a billion people worldwide and killed close to 50 million. At that time, the population of the planet was 1.8 billion. The death rate from the Spanish flu was greater than that of the black plague, H1N1 and the HIV epidemic combined.
So how did it start? Corona viruses are common in the world of infectious disease, but COVID-19 is a new strain. Initially it was believed to transmit between animals and people only, but now it is confirmed that transmission occurs between people, as well. It seems to originate in bats, at an illegal market in Wuhan, China. The market was closed in December, but re-opened (illegally) in January. It is now believed bats infected Pangolins, which are animals often poached for their scales (made of keratin), that are marketed as medicine. The animal’s meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam. Pangolins were sold in the illegal market, and the virus could have spread from a bat to a pangolin to humans, through the consumption of the animal.
The risk of catching the virus in Canada is a very low, at this time. There is no need to shun away from people who have recently been in China, but having said that, if you are aware of anyone travelling from China, who appears to be ill, local health authorities should be notified.
The only way to catch the virus is through respiratory contact, which means if you stand within 2 metres of a person who is infected, you could possibly catch it if they sneeze or cough. Masks work, but more to keep the virus inside the person who has it. I would certainly not travel in SE Asia without a mask. When travelling, make sure you wash your hands every time you come in contact with someone who may be infected, or sneezes and coughs near you. If you can, when you travel, fly business class, as most aircraft have separate ventilation systems for the front of the plane. It is unlikely to catch the virus by touching things, so, although sanitary wipes, etc. are great for germ reduction, they will do little to stop contraction of this virus.
Continue to travel, but be aware of what is happening around you.