The issue: Coronavirus comments
We say: Keep calm and carry on

Is “better safe than sorry” too simple a gem of wisdom?

Dr. Kami Kandola prescribed some advice last week when she advised residents of Yellowknife to stock up on essentials like food and medicine, 14 days’ worth, in fact.

Panic is a strong word, but some people believe that was the result of her comments and our coverage of them, which as of Tuesday had collected more than 12,600 views at They appeared to have an effect, with traffic at a Range Lake grocer up significantly over the weekend, and word of rice running out at Wal-Mart.

This was inconvenient for some, but the short term pain could turn out to be for long-term gain. Say the coronavirus, which public health officials now want you to call COVID-19, reaches the city. Who would be howling if Kandola, whose comments were in line with those made by the federal Health Minister Patty Hadju Feb. 25, had kept quiet in the interest of keeping the peace? 

Now you’re running out of toilet paper (which became one of the most valuable commodities in locked-down Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicentre), and you can’t leave the house.

Does that sound better? The Deh Cho Bridge relieved some logistical pressure, but Yellowknife remains a more challenging place to re-supply than its southern counterparts. We’re at the end of a long and complex supply chain, and the barriers only increase as you try to move goods elsewhere in the territory, up to and including barge-in and fly-in communities.

Part of Hadju’s reasoning was formed by how quickly things can and have changed since the outbreak began in earnest in January. The statistics of worldwide infected and dead, which had climbed over 90,000 and 3,000 respectively when this was written but will be higher again by the time you read it, have been followed by concerning facts, like evidence the virus was spreading in Washington State for as long as six weeks before the first case was detected, and that a patient in California represented the first infection of “unknown origin,” meaning she hadn’t travelled anywhere the virus was present or had contact with anyone who was known to be infected.

When Hadju made the suggestion to stock up, there were 13 cases in Canada, now there are 20 just in Ontario. Speaking strictly in terms of confirmed cases reported by governments around the world, the virus is spreading more rapidly in South Korea than China now, and even faster in Europe.

Complacency is the opposite of panic, and it can be just as dangerous. That’s why prominent officials like Toronto Mayor John Tory are warning against both. The city’s memory of the SARS outbreak in 2003 is fresh and, according to the Toronto Star, at least 17 of Ontario’s 20 cases are in the Greater Toronto Area.

But it’s also worth noticing that Tory and others, including Kandola, stress the danger the virus poses to Canadians remains low.

“I have believed from Day One it is important to make decisions and take action based on the advice of our excellent professionals and that is exactly what we are doing,” Tory tweeted.

In the meantime, sticking to the fundamentals remains good advice: wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow like a cartoon vampire from the 1980s, and stay home from work and other public places if you are feeling sick.

And maybe make sure your medications are up to date.


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