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'The unknown is so much more frightening': A tiny number summons a huge, historic panic – National Post

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Amid reports of the novel coronavirus’s devastating effects on global health and welfare, the worst news this week seemed to be a simple little number.

The death rate for known cases of the Wuhan virus, or COVID-19, is now measured at 3.4%, higher than earlier estimates, and several times higher than seasonal influenza.

More than 3,000 people have died out of more than 90,000 cases, and although the outbreak is largely confined to a few countries — China, Iran, Italy, Korea — the nascent outbreak is becoming “increasingly complex,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

This is a virus that knows no borders

He meant that the initial focus on cases and clusters has now shifted to the third C in the WHO’s advice to national governments: community transmission. Community transmission hasn’t happened in Canada yet but a new government emergency committee expects that to change.

“We can anticipate that there will be an outbreak in one of our Canadian communities. This is a virus that knows no borders and that is growing,” said Health Minister Patty Hajdu at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

What once seemed to be a series of disease clusters that could be isolated and contained — as on that ill-fated cruise ship in Japan, whose Canadian passengers are set to be freed from quarantine in Cornwall, Ont., on Friday — now seems likely to become a pandemic that can only be managed as it follows its own course throughout the world. This realization has kicked off a panic and heralded a new normal among the worried public.

Handwashing has become a novel virtue. Sneezing is newly anti-social behaviour. People who touch their face might just as well lick a doorknob. Masks are as common as scarves and about as effective for the general public, who tend to misuse them.


Health Minister Patty Hajdu listens as Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam gives an update on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, in Ottawa on March 4, 2020.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

After weeks of skepticism and sanguine reminders that this is just another cold virus, an urgency has set in. This is curious, as the WHO’s declaration of a global health emergency in January passed without causing similar upset, in part because the designation was then a borderline judgment call, first rejected then accepted within the same week.

That has all changed. In what was widely described as hitting the proverbial panic button, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a half percentage point, but that was not enough to prevent a massive slump in stocks.

Canada followed suit on Wednesday. Finance Minister Bill Morneau warned that businesses were likely to suffer interruptions to supply, and demand from customers unable to shop under quarantine or depressed economic activity.

Italy closed all schools and universities for two weeks until March 15. Los Angeles declared an emergency of community transmission. New York City registered its first few cases, including one of unknown origin. In Britain, public health authorities were considering whether to tell people to stop shaking hands.


Jonathan Peterschmitt, a doctor infected with the new coronavirus, poses at the window of his medical office in Bernwiller, France, on March 4, 2020.

Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

The virus is out and about, and causing trouble, for companies as much as people. Lufthansa grounded 150 planes because of its effects on their business. The producers of the new James Bond movie delayed its spring release to the fall. Shopify cancelled a conference in Toronto in May. Australia was struck by a supermarket run on toilet paper by people anticipating quarantine or shortages.

All this has prompted concerns that the panic volume is a few levels too high for the actual crisis.

“As Canadians, if we can maintain our sang-froid, we should be fine,” said Heather MacDougall, a medical historian at the University of Waterloo, and an expert in the history of pandemics including the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and Toronto’s SARS outbreak in 2003.

“The unknown is so much more frightening than the known,” she said. The trick is that the unknown is not necessarily more dangerous.

For one thing, the interest rate cuts are less expressions of panic over the virus than reflections of changes to global manufacturing patterns, MacDougall said. If Chinese manufacturing slows down, everything slows down, and the business world is at risk.

“It’s fascinating to think that a disease could cause this challenge to an economic system that is so heavily interconnected,” she said.

After SARS, the Bank of Canada estimated the outbreak cut gross domestic product by 0.1%, a loss that was soon recovered. On Wednesday, similarly, markets rallied strongly, in part because of the rate cut.

For another thing, COVID-19 is a pretty mild illness most of the time, not much more than a normal cold for healthy people. And the true number of cases is certainly under-reported, so the true overall death rate is lower than the current measure.

More countries do not have cases (119) than do (75), according to the WHO. Of the countries that do have cases, more than half have fewer than ten.


The Yomiuri Giants and Tokyo Yakult Swallows play a pre-season baseball game in an empty Tokyo stadium amid fears of the coronavirus spreading.

Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

SARS had a much higher death rate, but was less easily spread, so with fewer cases to deal with, containment made for a better strategy and in time it was snuffed out without spreading much beyond Toronto.

MacDougall described SARS as a study in a health system being overwhelmed, with no answers to the central questions until the whole thing was over. With the novel coronavirus, however, the key questions were being asked and answered from the beginning, informed by previous experiences with SARS and the more recent Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

In SARS, it was not until quite late in the outbreak that the virus was even identified, compared to this time, when the Chinese had identified it within a few days, and shared that information.

“Big difference if you know what you’re looking for,” MacDougall said.

If we can maintain our sang-froid, we should be fine

So the future of COVID-19 is likely to look something like past pandemics, which is to say it will peak, then pass.

She noted that stories of price-gouging on hand-sanitizer and face masks recall stories in the Spanish Flu outbreak about profiteering and hoarding of garlic and camphor, which were thought to be preventatives.

“Human nature is what pretty much stays the same,” MacDougall said.

• Email: jbrean@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

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Wildlife rescue on Vancouver Island to limit visitors as avian flu continues to spread in B.C. – CBC.ca

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A wildlife rescue in the Comox Valley, on Vancouver Island, is closing its visitor centre starting Monday due to the spread of avian flu in B.C.

The Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) Wildlife Rescue Centre, in Merville, B.C., announced it would be limiting visitors due to the risk that the disease poses to its captive birds, which include owls, eagles, and albino crows.

The decision comes after a small poultry flock in the Comox Valley tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus last week, the first such case on Vancouver Island.

It is part of a rapidly-spreading outbreak of the flu throughout North America, with eight cases recorded in B.C. since April 13.

The concern is that a visitor could inadvertently bring the virus to the MARS centre on their vehicle, shoes or clothing.

“All of the species that we have in permanent captivity here … they are especially susceptible to the avian flu,” said Gylaine Andersen, manager of wildlife rehabilitation at MARS. “They are more likely to get severe symptoms, and actually die from the flu, than other types of animals.”

“It was a really difficult decision to close the visitor centre because we need the visitor centre to support the wildlife rehab program. But we just had to do it for the safety of our resident birds.”

The centre hosts two bald eagles and multiple owls that were previously rescued, as well as a red-tailed hawk. MARS also has two albino crows in residence named Nimpkish and Kokish.

Nimpkish and Kokish, two albino crows, are seen here at the MARS Wildlife Rescue. They are particularly susceptible to avian flu, according to Gylaine Andersen. (MARS Wildlife Rescue)

Andersen said the temporary closure comes at the busiest time of year for the centre. It might struggle to weather the loss of income without public donations, she said.

“At this time of year, we’re getting lots of little baby birds and baby mammals at the hospital,” she told CBC News. “Over at the visitor centre, this is when we would have the most visitation from the public.”

The MARS wildlife hospital remains open, according to the rescue’s website, but Andersen said it would be “an expensive time of year” without funds for PPE and other medical equipment.

Andersen asked poultry owners to be extra vigilant as avian flu continues to spread in the province, and also reiterated a call to take down bird feeders to stop the spread among wild birds.

Avian flu cases have been confirmed in several other provinces, but no infections have been detected in humans.

Officials say the illness is not considered a significant concern for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds.

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Mental Health Issues Demand Resolution

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Should those who hold public office show that they are of sound mind and body before taking office and during the years they serve? Are those bureaucrats who truly run our government ever tested or investigated for various mental health issues that could surely affect their performance as public employees?

Imagine what the mental state of public servants is like these days? Besides the Pandemics’ influence upon us all, these men and women are responsible for public service to their communities and nation. Man public employees are under vigorous scrutiny for their honesty and performance as employees, but what about their mental health challenges? Various municipal, State and Federal authorities make attempts to pinpoint an employee in need, someone needing assistance and direction in their professional and personal lives, but it is difficult to do. Privacy and union issues often stand in between the person in need and those who would assist them. Furthermore, many employees refuse to seek assistance, for reasons of professional survival. Say an employee has an important job where many decisions are made influencing the community at large(ie Police). That person needs assistance for some mental health issues but fears either losing their jobs or being declared problematic employees, slowing promotions or professional advancement. They clam up, interiorizing their pain, fear or distress.

Most public institutions will honestly admit they do not invest enough into mental health services for their fellow employees.

Our elected officials have much to hide away from their future or present-day electors. What if they have a skeleton in their closet? A colourful personal history, a criminal record, possible mental health or physical health issue. Issues that are allowed to be hidden from the transparency portfolio. If asked, tell the truth(as they see it), otherwise hide what can be hidden. Politicians performing their service to the community, are placed under a microscope by the electorate and media alike. This must be stressful to them and their families too. Are elected officials ever evaluated for mental health status ever, before being elected and during their service?

Do you think anyone with a criminal record or under investigation should be removed or barred from holding office or in a position of public trust? Is the trust of the electorate easily given? A public official or employee could mishandle a portfolio, or commit a crime while in public service. How often have you seen such an individual stand before the media’s camera, proclaiming their innocence or sorrow of their actions?

We have heard many public officials call for hugely needed investments in the treatment of mental health issues, yet these investments are either moving at a snail’s pace or not at all. Our military and police have been calling for assistance regarding their need for mental health programs for two decades with little happening. The government’s response is usually words, words, and more words with little accountable assistance given. Our government has enough revenue to invest in weapons for the police and military, building structures and community centers, highways and new computers, but when asked to invest in people, their employees and the electorate, it’s either too costly or they have not the funds.

The Police and Military: Have an immediate need for trained mental health professionals, therapists and therapy-recoup centers. If the government can send them into harm’s way, they are responsible to maintain their mental health.

Government Agencies: Due to privacy issues, the government should make allotments to their employees available to find and go to therapy. A healthy employee is a trusted effective one. The government should source mental health professionals for those who serve them. Furthermore, Governments and their agencies are responsible to encourage, initiate and plan for the training of these professionals. A well-paid professional will make their placement a long-term investment. If our public employees can rely upon their employer to care for them, we can rely upon our public sector.

An established long-term mental health program needs to be established. This can be all-inclusive to the entire community. For example, gun owners, and drivers of vehicles should be required to invest their time in an interview and possible retraining every five years. Should a mental health issue be recognized, it can be dealt with appropriately and calmly. Bad habits, addictions, attitudes and illnesses developed over time can be recognized and something is done about them promptly and privately.

We have forgotten that much that we receive from and within our society is a privilege, something that should be earnt, and not awarded. Our mental health changes over time, and so too our responsibility to our communities, family and society. Is the public sector becoming our parents, our caregivers? In many ways, it is, and so our overall health, and that of our minds may be calling for community maintenance.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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BC bird flu: Vancouver Island farmers on alert | CTV News – CTV News VI

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The fears of many chicken farmers on Vancouver Island have been realized. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed that a case of the avian flu that’s been spreading across Canada has been found in a small flock in the Comox Valley on Wednesday.

Jeremy Vigini considers his birds pets, but they do provide limited income on his Black Creek, B.C., hobby farm, Broken Head Farms.

He’s only been at it for a few months but had heard the bird flu was headed towards the island.

“We first started hearing there was a problem last month,” he said, noting that he’d been keeping an eye on biosecurity and preventative measures.

Vigini and other poultry operations of all sizes are now under tighter restrictions after a positive case of the avian flu was confirmed on the Mid-Island.

“All we got was a post saying it’s in the Comox Valley now, and so our minds went to, ‘How do we secure our birds, our pets, all this stuff?'” he said.

Vigini’s now put up a new gate and increased fencing and netting to try to keep wild birds out.

WILDLIFE WORKERS

Staff and volunteers at the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Centre (MARS) in Merville are increasing their protocols.

“[It’s] extremely contagious as far as we are aware, so at this point it can spread to any species of bird. Not necessarily all birds will show symptoms,” said Gylaine Andersen, manager of wildlife rehabilitation at MARS.

Staff are now taking a second look at the condition of their current patients.

“It’s kind of hard because a lot of these symptoms we’re seeing in animals anyway, and now we have to think, ‘OK maybe this is the flu instead of whatever else they would normally be,'” said Andersen.

The facility’s asking the general public to help out by encouraging birds to socially distance.

“For gathering of birds at bird feeders and bird baths, we are asking that people take those down,” said Andersen.

MARS is worried that if the avian flu is left unchecked, it could spread to wild birds, like eagles and geese.

As of Wednesday, seven properties across B.C. had confirmed cases of the avian flu. 

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