Coronavirus hysteria goes viral

Photo by: Yukang Ji

Hoaxes and hysteria have abounded in response the mostly non-lethal coronavirus. 

Ryerson University, McMaster University and Durham College have all reported that fake notices on a coronavirus outbreak on their campuses as well as pictures of people in hazmat suits have been circulating widely online. 

A petition to “Close All Campuses in Ontario to Stop the Novel Coronavirus” has garnered over 47,000 signatures. 

In response to the epidemic, UW has been routinely screening all students who have recently travelled internationally, regardless of the location of their trip.

Masks and other safety precautions are provided for those who may potentially be experiencing respiratory infection-related symptoms.

The university has also confirmed that over 100 students are currently working in China for their co-op term. Mathew Grant, director of Media Reations at UW, says UW will continue to be in touch with these students and offer any assistance if it becomes necessary.

One student at an affiliated university in Wuhan, but UW has been in touch and guaranteed there is no need for concern. Of the many UW co-op students currently in China, one is at an affiliated university located in the centre of the outbreak, Wuhan. 

With that said, UW says its been in contact with the student and says there is no cause for concern.

So far, Canada has confirmed a total of four positively tested cases, one case in British Columbia and three in Ontario with the fourth one confirmed in London, Ontario, all liked to recent outgoing travel from China. two confirmed cases in Ontario and one in British Columbia, with a fourth confirmed in London Ontario, all linked to recent outgoing travel from China. 

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief Medical Officer of Health, says that through the province should have been concerned if seven to ten cases had already been confirmed, that is not the case.

While 27 cases are currently under investigation and testing in Ontario, 38 people have been tested negative for the virus, Dr.Williams says. 

2019-nCov has relatively similar transmissibility to influenza or the common flu virus. Where the two differ, as supported by recent studies says Dr. Williams, is that 2019-nCov is not transmittable when a person is not feeling its symptoms.  

But as the viral disease remains relatively contained, a surge of new epidemics–one of them being growing racism and stigma held against Chinese and East Asian populations.  

Geoffrey Fong, Professor of Psychology, Public Health and Health Systems at UW, recounts how one of his colleagues, who identifies as Chinese, experienced racism at a grocery store in Brampton.

“She turned around, and a man behind her said, ‘I don’t want to get the coronavirus,”Fong said.

There is a clear link between the coronavirus’ origins in China and the increasing discriminatory attitude towards the Asian population in Canada, according to Fong.

But this is not the first time Chinese Canadians have been faced with racist attitudes linked to a viral epidemic originating in China. 

In 2003, SARS, also considered a type of coronavirus, became a motive for racism against Chinese Canadians. 

“We saw it in 2003 with SARS. And the world has changed a lot since that time. There’s transmission of a virus… it is spreading, and it is spreading more quickly because, of course, there is a lot more [international] transportation in China,” Fong said.

Like transportation, the exchange and availability of information has become immensely difficult to track due to sheer size and accessibility of social media. 

Coupled with mass paranoia, social media is host to the circulation of misinformation surrounding the virus, including a social media hoax at UW.

Ever since its announcement by Chinese officials on Jan. 7, efforts ranging from international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to local ones such as UW have aimed to find a solution to the infectious aftermath of the 2019-nCov paranoia and the virus itself.

On Jan. 30, WHO declared the 2019-nCov an international passive public health emergency across the globe. 

They said that its primary concern is the virus’ potential to spread to countries that have inadequate health care systems to deal with the outbreak.   

“To the people of China, and to all of those around the world who have been affected by this outbreak, we want you to know that the world stands with you. We are working diligently with national and international public health partners to bring this outbreak under control as fast as possible,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said. 

Federal Health Minister Hajdu took to Ottawa to support WHO’s statement and said Canada has a developed Health care system apt enough to deal with the epidemic at hand. “The World Health Organization’s global emergency status is really […] about helping countries that do not have the same level of sophistication as Canada, or perhaps the United States, to protect their citizens if in fact they have a citizen who returns from China who is ill, or has been close to someone who has returned from China who is ill,” Hajdu said.


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