SARS Demands More Than Comedy Teams And Spin Doctors

Edmonton - Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - by: Ron Thornton


People are dying in Toronto from a new pestilence. We are told there is no antidote, that those who get it have a five to fifteen percent possibility of dying. Pretty scary stuff. So, where was our Prime Minister, our champion, the defender of our land and our health? Well, our little fella from Shawinigan was off golfing with his buddy Bill Clinton somewhere in the Dominican Republic.
"I took a few days of holidays like I have the right to do,"
he informs us. Then again, we poor slobs; the ones who think of holidays as time well spent in a tent, a holiday trailer, or a Holiday Inn somewhere on Canadian soil; have a few rights, too. One of them is the expectation that they might not die from some unknown plague while our Nero fiddles away on the links in the Caribbean.




We need some answers. We need to feel that the situation is under some semblance of control. We need to feel assured that our health professionals will be able to protect us. What do we get instead? Jean Chretien offers Toronto $10-million to put toward a promotional ad campaign. Nothing like a tv commercial and some smiling faces on a billboard to combat a mysterious killer plague. I can just imagine the slogan, "Vacation in Toronto: Catch the Fever!"




Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman certainly was a hit for his rant on CNN against the World Health Organization's advisory against travel to his city. Every comedian on the continent gives thanks. By way of explanation, a spokesperson for the mayor touts that
"In 48 hours we've changed a Toronto story into an international story, and people around the world are now talking about Toronto."
Yes, sir, and Tiananmen Square was just a park before it hit the news a few years back. I don't think anyone should be claiming either as a public relations coup. Just maybe, after seeing yet another example of the quality of our leadership, the world may view Canada with a more sympathetic view. At least, they might until it dawns on them that we, or at least some of the people, elected these comics to govern us.




There are those who claim they saw this kind of thing coming. The Central Intelligence Agency not only predicted more than three years ago that increased mobility would allow the dramatic increase in the spread of infectious disease, but that governments might try to hide the outbreaks for fear of economic losses. Then again, the rest of us came to the same conclusion in 1975 when, after several shark attacks, we saw Amity Police Chief Brody trying to close the beaches, only to be stymied by the money grubbing Mayor Vaughn who feared Amity's tourism would be hurt by such a move. Now, twenty-eight years after "Jaws" hit the big screen, we find fact imitating fiction.




It is anyone's guess just how many have died from SARS in China, as we begin to hear reports that it is now spreading in rural areas. Reports on the world wide death total, which is rising as I write this, ranges from 274 to 333, depending on the source. Not catastrophic numbers yet, but the 1918 Spanish Influenza that killed somewhere between twenty and forty million also began in small pockets before spreading world wide. It also is thought, though not definitely, to have originated in China due to a rare genetic shift of the influenza virus that stripped most people of any immunity. Its first wave went basically unnoticed, but no one could ignore the devastating waves that followed over the next six months. In both Canada and the United States it eventually infected more than a quarter of the population, claiming more than a 2% mortality rate. Sound familiar? Toronto may lie 2712 kilometers, or 1685 miles as the crow flies, from where I live in Edmonton, but history tells us that distance failed to provide much immunity to a world population more than eighty years ago. It provides even less today.




With SARS remaining a mysterious killer, with the West Nile Virus potentially next on our dance card, and with a host of man-made and natural threats always on the horizon, we deserve more leading the fight on our behalf than political comedy teams and spin doctors Our very lives may depend upon it.




Ron Thornton




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