Editorial: Keep calm and please, please, please wash your hands

If there ever was a case of tremendously bad timing, the Ford government’s decision to cut paid sick days in the province would be it. It would seem Doug Ford cannot catch a break from the universe considering current global concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

One of the best defences against pandemic is isolation of the infected; in other words, if you are sick—stay home. The world will likely go on just fine without someone in the office coming in to share their virus largesse. But since one of the nasty aspects of this particular coronavirus is that it happily scatters its spores among us long before cough and fever trumpet its arrival in our system, that is somewhat moot.

One might be forgiven for having a strong sense of déjà vu when listening to health officials’ near universal advice on how to protect against COVID-19. It should seem familiar, since it is the same sound advice given out on the advent of the arrival of every single influenza strain since we stopped blaming the influence of evil spirits or bad humours for the illnesses that plague mankind.

Keep calm and wash your hands, it’s a meme currently making the social media rounds, but in a marked departure from the usual credibility of random things foisted upon us by the interweb this one is decidedly backed up by sound health science. It isn’t a perfect panacea, but by all accounts it comes fairly close.

When trying to come to grips with the current hysteria surrounding the spread of this particular coronavirus (“novel” because it is a strain for which humans currently have no built up immunity) a bit of historical retrospection might be in order.

The Spanish Flu, making the rounds back when much of the human race seemed hell-bent on self-annihilation during the madness of the First World War, infected some 500 million people worldwide, killing an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims—to put that in perspective, that sweep of the grim reaper’s scythe took out more people than the first modern war managed even if you combined all of the soldiers and civilians killed during World War I.

So far, cases of COVID-19 across the globe have topped more than 109,000. Italy seems to be the most hard-hit in the West, but that number is likely to be the proverbial tip of the iceberg due to the poor reporting regimes and a lack of testing resources available in some jurisdictions. Even the massive techno giant to the south does not have the resources to adequately measure the extent of the outbreak within its borders.

Fallout from concerns about the potential pandemic has already devastated the tourism industry across the globe, bad news indeed for the Island’s tourism-based businesses, but hopefully rural and remote regions will become more attractive thanks to the dangers now presented by more exotic locales.

There are two interesting dynamics that may come out of this current global crisis. One is that we may lose the complacency toward devastating infections that much of humanity has built up since the advent of antibiotics and thereby become more vigilant in our approach to our community health. But should the resources being arrayed against the crisis be averted and humanity be spared the worst impacts of a global pandemic, the social media pundits and conspiracy theorists will be quick to say it was all a government plot.

But to be on the safe side, let’s all stick to the tried and true by keeping calm, washing our hands, coughing into our elbows and staying home when we are exhibiting the symptoms.

Be aware and don’t share.