Written by James Skinner
At time of publication, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected 4,000 people across Canada and taken the lives of 37.
Globally, there are over half a million cases with 23,000 dead.
Supermarkets struggle to control the influx of customers desperate to stock-pile toilet paper, dried foods and other home comforts. Our towns and cities resemble those of dystopian sci-fi movies while families remain cautious, even scared, to venture outside for fear of contracting the virus.
Indeed, this pandemic will go down in history as one of Canada’s toughest challenges, testing the will of our people and the strength of our economy for the foreseeable future.
But every Canadian should be consoled, not with canned food and ammunition, but facts and perspective. Contrary to popular belief, we have all lived through a pandemic of this magnitude which infected millions of people and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Was it the flu pandemic of 1889, the Cholera pandemic of 1910 or the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918? Although tragic and hospitalizing millions, the answer is no. Think as recent as 2009 (11 years ago).
That pandemic was the H1N1 virus, commonly known as “Swine Flu”.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H1N1 was a novel virus that was declared a pandemic in April 2009. In its first year alone, there were 60.8 million cases and 12,469 people lost their lives – just in the United States.
Globally, the virus was estimated to have killed over 350,000 people in its first year with 80% of those infected and killed under the age of 65. Unlike previous pandemics, H1N1 overwhelming targeted young adults and children, claiming their lives through fever, pneumonia, lung infections and breathing difficulties – similar to the Coronavirus.
Instead of the elderly, the virus targeted children with no underlying health conditions, attacking their respiratory systems and capitalizing on their less immunized bodies. It was merciless in its effect, wiping out hundreds of thousands worldwide.
Statistically, the infections and deaths from COVID-19 pale in comparison to those of H1N1, yet despite the 2009 pandemic lasting more than 16 months, we carried on life as normal. Schools remained open, businesses continued trading and quarantines were only proposed in George Orwell novels.
Our panic was minimal, but we made it through.
Of course, I am not saying that we shouldn’t take the COVID-19 outbreak seriously – we should. The deaths of 23,000 people globally is 23,000 too many. Outside of overly zealous and draconian measures implemented by our government, we should do whatever we can to slow the spread of the virus; washing our hands more, going outside less often, social distancing, etc. Perhaps if similar measures were implemented during the H1N1 outbreak, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved.
If we must make small, temporary sacrifices to curb the spread of the disease, we should. We can save thousands of lives, protect the most vulnerable around us and come together as Canadians to defeat a common, unseen enemy.
What we must not do is panic.
Social media is saturated with commentary, videos and “scientific data” that would have you believe it is the end of times. Those eager for an easy like, share or subscribe continue to post material based on nonsense (my favourite claiming the virus will be killed by drinking water heated to 26 degrees celsius, despite the average body temperate functioning at 37 degrees celsius). Those who have no medical knowledge believe such claims, along with others claiming the virus will wipe out millions, return us to the dark ages, destroy western civilization and certainly claim the lives of all those you love and care for.
The mainstream media are also accountable for creating our panicked society. In times of mass hysteria, audiences for news agencies skyrocket, meaning greater profits and more disposable income for the upcoming Christmas party and awards ceremony. Every channel will dedicate hours of air-time to those who have died from COVID-19, but none will commit to broadcasting those who are asymptomatic, already immune or how the common flu we ignore on a daily basis has already caused 390,000 hospitalizations worldwide this season.
This style of broadcasting and publication does nothing for Canadians. It only creates fear, anxiety and irrational behavior across our country.
What Canada needs now more than ever is assurance over anguish, facts over fear and perspective over panic. Yes, these are trying times for our nation, but we have stared down the barrel of pandemics before and even survived the outbreak which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people (without quarantines, closures and social distancing).
COVID-19 is serious, but with cooler heads and rational behavior, Canada will overcome. Instead of mass hysteria, let us learn from history and acknowledge that this virus, although tragic, will be defeated.
Keep your distance, wash your hands and above all else, stay calm. We will make it through this – we always do.