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COVID-19 is a pandemic.

The novel coronavirus, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, has now—as of March 4—infected people in over 75 countries, on all continents save Antarctica.

There are now more than 94,000 cases worldwide with over 3,000 deaths. Both of those numbers will continue to rise as the virus rips through a global village with no prior immunity among the human population. Canada has now reported 33 cases, which will also continue to escalate.

The mortality rate of those infected appears to lie somewhere between 3 and 4 percent, though this too is evolving. Putting this in context, it is about 30 to 40 times more deadly than the seasonal flu.

Gargantuan—arguably draconian—measures taken by China have done much to slow the spread. But the new coronavirus is no longer contained. It has gone global.

By definition, COVID-19 is now a pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new infection, one to which human immune systems do not yet possess acquired immunity.

The fact that the WHO and other national level public health organizations—like the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Center for Disease Control south of the border—are not using the term “pandemic” is likely largely political. Concerns over implications for the economy being at the forefront.

Whether this has far-reaching consequences remains to be seen.

But nevertheless, COVID-19 is behaving exactly as a pandemic does. Rapidly spreading and ignoring the false constructs of national borders.

So far, regions lacking strong public health infrastructure have—mercifully—been spared. But the assault on these communities is only a matter of time, if strong mitigating measures are not taken.

Think of the 70 million people worldwide displaced from their homes as part of the global migration crisis. Think of the large chunk of the developing world where basic health care systems are lacking at the best of times, let alone having the capacity to respond to a global outbreak.

And yes, think of Canada’s Indigenous communities, where health outcomes are abhorrently dismal, where overcrowding is shamefully the norm, and where health care is largely absent by comparison to the remainder of our country. These communities are highly vulnerable to such an outbreak, as we saw with the H1N1 virus—the so-called swine flu—in 2009.

There is no effective treatment for COVID-19 at present and we cannot be sure if or when a vaccine will be found.

There are, however, relatively simple public health measures that can be taken. This is especially true in a resource-rich setting like Canada. But we need to take this seriously, and call the out the problem for what it is.

Back in 2003, SARS caught our health system off guard. We paid the price. We need to avoid the same mistakes this time around.

More importantly, as the unintended consequences of a globalized world become apparent, investment—not divestment, as is the mode du jour—in public health infrastructure has never been more important.

COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic. It is simply a taste of what is to come.

Infectious diseases themselves are not political. Unfortunately, public health policy is.

And that’s where the problem lies.

We still have a chance to get this right. For this rodeo, and for the future.

Editor's note: This piece was updated Wednesday, March 11, 2020, at 10:20 PT to indicate that the coronavirus has been declared pandemic, rather than that it should be declared a pandemic, which the author said when he filed this piece before it was declared a pandemic.

Not to undermine the seriousness of this issue, some would disagree that SARS caught us off guard. A recent Globe & Mail column by health writer Andre Picard says:
"British Columbia didn’t have an outbreak; it recorded four cases and no deaths.
The difference was that B.C. was prepared.
The BC Centre for Disease Control was proactive, monitoring the spread of SARS in China closely, and sending bulletins to emergency-room staff. As a result, Mr. C. was isolated immediately. Health workers took appropriate precautions, from paramedics to janitorial staff. The tracing of contacts was swift and rigorous.
By contrast, Ontario had no central agency monitoring infectious diseases. Mr. T. sat in a crowded emergency room, then was placed in a ward. A nurse, who was an avid reader of Chinese media was the one who alerted the hospital that the patient probably had SARS and more caution was required."

Given that appropriate centralized containment (which during SARS BC had and Ontario didn't) is essential in deterring the spread, might explain the number of deaths in Washington state versus BC. We know Trump has gutted large parts of the CDC and without a national health care system, the U.S. might be looking at some fairly high negative outcomes. I suppose this is why some states are declaring emergencies--to access extra funds. And also why there is panic buying at Costco just across the border from Vancouver where there is none.

Has anyone heard of Andrew Saul? He's been trying to get the word out ever since the Corona Virus was announced..... Since then he's been communicating with Doctors in Wohan, China - who have been following the protocol he recommended for any viral infection.... Large doses of Vitamin C, which is both an antiviral and also an immune system booster.... The China doctors are administering Vit. C. intravenously, with success... Meanwhile everyone should be taking mega doses - to the point where a loose stool is noticed.... then back off just a little.... To read a host of peer reviewed studies go to this recommended website: http://www.orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/index.shtml The fear attached to this viral warning is as harmful and the virus itself.

I am dismayed by the knee-jerk lock-in-step reaction to this "pandemic". Please do yourself a favour and research the numbers - your chances of being infected and possibly dying from a flu virus every single year are immeasurably greater than the risks posed by COVID-19. Do a bit of sober thinking and ask yourself who benefits from a coordinated campaign that generates mass fear and uncertainty.