You can't go far these days without hearing of the coronavirus. In fact, you're reading about it right now! COVID-19 is sweeping the nation, and all the news coverage may make you feel a sudden tickle in your own throat.
The disease is spreading, it's true. But is now the time to panic? Certainly not. Yes, if you're taking part in a study abroad program, you're probably pretty bummed out. But if you live and study in Canada, your risks are low.
COVID-19 Around the Globe
As of March 11th, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported the global number of infections has surpassed 118,000 in 114 countries. The WHO advocates countries with widespread outbreaks should consider closing schools and reducing or cancelling large gatherings. It's urging a broad, co-ordinated response to this emerging pandemic.
Many schools and institutions are encouraging academic staff to deliver course material online, to minimize chances of the virus's transmission. Precautions are always good, and the migration of courses from the classroom to the computer is a trend the current outbreak has only accelerated.
On March 11, the director-general of the WHO labelled the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. "Not a word to use lightly or carelessly," he said. Containment is a "major pillar" of health officials' plan to combat COVID-19. A "pandemic" refers to the rapid and efficient spread of a virus.
The fatality rate of those infected is estimated to be as high as 3.4%, according to the WHO. This figure is disputed, though. Britain's chief medical officer pegs it at 1% or lower. Most COVID-19 cases are mild, not requiring hospitalization — and thus, these infections aren't caught in the WHO's estimates. Almost everyone who is exposed to the disease will recover.
The Story in Canada
Canada, thanks to our robust public health system and quick response, has had more luck than many countries in combatting the illness. There are under 100 confirmed cases across the country, and over 80% of these are in individuals over 40. There has been one confirmed death — a man in his 80s with underlying health conditions. This fact is not meant to downplay the seriousness of the disease, or its tragic consequences, but merely to put them in context. COVID-19 is serious if you're part of an at-risk group.
On March 11, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1 billion in funding to help Canadians deal with COVID-19. Provinces, territories, and public health agencies will see a bump in their budgets, and the one week wait period for employment insurance will be waived. The federal government is preparing for a "range of scenarios," and will keep the public updated on developments.
What Should You Do?
Be realistic. Trust the opinions of experts, like the WHO and the federal government, who are doing everything possible to understand and contain the novel coronavirus. Watch out for emotionally-laden terms like "plague" and stick to the facts. Most people with the illness in Canada are travellers, or those in close contact with travellers.
Keep up to date. Nothing's certain, even on a good day. Many of the world's great minds are working hard on this problem, and new information is sure to come to light. Estimates will be revised, percentages will tick up and down, and knowledge will grow through experience and insight. We understand more and more about the virus every day.
Be proactive. Follow the experts' advice: wash your hands frequently, avoid travelling if you can, and be sensible about risk. You probably don't need to uproot your entire life to handle our new reality, but a few small changes to your daily routine could better protect you and your loved ones.
Though COVID-19 dominates the headlines, it shouldn't dominate your life. Keep focused on your goals, both short- and long-term. Be safe, follow the advice of experts, and stay tuned for further updates on the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
And remember: there's no need to panic!