Ontario Tech expert weighs in on COVID-19, past virus threats

Dr. Wally Bartfay.

Canada is now in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and a local public and population health expert from Ontario Tech University, Dr. Wally Bartfay, is watching it with interest.

COVID-19 was first announced through a whistleblower, Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor on the front lines of the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19, who died shortly after contracting the new virus.

Bartfay said Chinese officials were slow to react until the doctor started tweeting.

“Before authorities noticed that he was putting out this (tweet), and he had over 200,000 hits at that time and being distributed,” he said. “But they quickly shut him down. What they realized quickly is that they could not shut him down because the word was already out.”

Shortly after, Chinese officials contacted the World Health Organization (WHO) to alert the rest of the world to what needed to be done.

“Chinese officials then contacted WHO and people are being praised for their quick response within a few days, two to three days,” said Bartfay. “But that two to three days was critical because there were also some earlier warning signs but they were hiding it still.”

Soon the coronavirus was in dozens of country and people were skeptical of the disease that originated in Wuhan, China.

“People are reluctant to sit beside people on a subway,” said Bartfay. “If you happen to have Asian characteristics and you’re wearing a mask in a subway people will move away from you, they won’t sit beside you. There is a lot of xenophobia happening where they racialize a disease.”

He said COVID-19 is not the first of its kind.

“This is the seventh corona virus, we had other ones,” he said. “Most coronaviruses are really just the common cold. SARS was the common cold, but it was on steroids and rocket fuel.”

After that, there was the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which came from camels in 2012, according to Bartfay.

“SARS, and probably this one too, originates from mammals, in this case bats,” he said. “These are what we call ‘zoonotic infections.’”

More than a million cases of COVID-19 have been tracked worldwide, so far. Only four months after the announcement of the new coronavirus, the numbers in cases continue to rise every day.

Now considered an outbreak, many precautions are being taken as the WHO continues to update the public.

“The WHO has this emergency plan that’s sort of like a ‘battle plan’ if there was ever an outbreak,” said Bartfay. “They never thought it would happen in 100 years. SARS came along and they had to initiate it and declare it as a public health emergency. We’ve had other ones, too, on the radar. We have had Zika and Ebola declared as public health emergencies because it was going across multiple borders and had multiple moralities.”

He said protocols and precautions set out by the WHO are crucial to follow if people in self-isolation want to revert back to their life before the outbreak.

“The people who are at risk because they have other complications are very young children with young immune systems or very old and they often have other complications like diabetes, heart disease or stroke, so it’s compounded,” he said.

Although COVID-19 is dangerous for these people, it is important for everyone to self-isolate as cases among young adults are also causing them to be hospitalized as well.

Government officials have said the month of April will decide how long self-isolation will continue in Canada.