Maryam Azzam | Contributor
Featured Image: Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital had their first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Canada. | Courtesy of sunnybrooke.ca
The first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) spreading to Canada was confirmed by Ontario health officials on Monday, January 27.
The first patient has been identified as a Toronto man in his mid 50s. Days after returning from a trip to the city of Wuhan – China’s originator of the coronavirus – via a flight from Guangzhou, the Toronto resident was admitted to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Shortly after, his wife who accompanied him on the flight was also admitted.
The Toronto couple has since returned home after their symptoms subsided and professionals at Sunnybrook cleared them from quarantine.
With the rising fears of contracting the virus, Canadians have taken to social media as a means of keeping up-to-date with the outbreak. Misinformation has spread through various social media posts, including inaccurate preventative measures and false claims about new cases of 2019-nCoV.
One of the false preventative measures being spread online is the belief that wearing face masks will help protect the public from the virus. However, this has been debunked by Canadian doctors and the World Health Organization. Reports suggest that masks may be more harmful than helpful as constant adjusting and touching of the face can transmit bacteria from the hands.
Canadian doctors are recommending that citizens take similar precautions as they would for common illnesses. This includes coughing and sneezing into one’s sleeve to prevent the spread of bacteria to others, and washing one’s hands thoroughly and frequently, while avoiding excessive touching of the mouth and nose.
York addressed false claims to students having tested positive for the virus in a tweet on January 29.
“False information is being shared online claiming students have contracted Coronavirus. These are not real and please do not share them,” York stated in a tweet.
Farhat Hasnain, a first-year commerce student, explains the fears he has in light of the outbreak.
The virus coming out of nowhere was very odd. I didn’t believe it at first. Now when I’m in public places I try to be more cautious, especially while commuting and at school. It’s kind of scary not knowing when or how you could get it,” says Hasnain.
Social media is an accessible means of rapidly spreading information, regardless of accuracy. In serious situations like a virus outbreak, it is important that the public remains informed from credible sources.
With the virus originating in Wuhan in the province of Hubei, fears of contracting 2019-nCoV have sparked a rise in xenophobic behaviour.
York’s Fuyuki Kurasawa, professor of sociology, explained that social media amplifies the fears that the public possesses during an outbreak as it is difficult to filter fact from fiction. Xenophobia is an unfortunately common byproduct of the spread of misinformation and lack of knowledge.
People justify racist behaviour because of their concern about their own health,” says Kurasawa. “So you can imagine that there would be targeting of people from specific ethnic or racial groups as a result of this, as potential carriers of coronavirus.”
On January 29, a newsletter was released by Lucy Fromowitz, vice-provost students, to members of the York community about this issue.
“We must be mindful not to draw assumptions based on culture or ethnicity. There are more than 178 different countries represented at York and a multitude of more cultures within that,” stated Fromowitz. “This is a point of strength for us.”