Editorial: Other ‘devils’ pose greater threat

Thursday 30 January 2020 | Written by Jonathan Milne | Published in Editorials


Editorial: Other ‘devils’ pose greater threat
Chinese children arrive at Sydney International Airport.

OPINION: It started around Christmas in a live seafood market in Wuhan, a sprawling Chinese city of 11 million people, yet one whose name was little-known to most of us in the western world – until now.

One month, three flights and 10,000 kilometres later, the Cook Islands Cabinet met to discuss hardline health advice to crack down on travel and travellers that might bring with them this headline-grabbing coronavirus.

Now, it’s the job of our public health experts and officials to prepare for the worst-case scenarios. That’s why the Ministry of Health has called top-level emergency management meetings to plan a response to the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus; that’s why health minister Rose Toki-Brown wants an emergency Cabinet meeting.

But it’s our job – the public, the business community, tourism operators – to get on with daily life and keep the wheels of commerce, schooling and family life turning smoothly.

It’s our job to put this threat in perspective.

* Quarantine for potential virus carriers
* Cook Islands hope for the best, prepare for the worst

The Chinese premier has called the virus a “devil” and is handing out millions of face masks.

I haven’t yet seen anyone wearing a face mask around Rarotonga, and hope I never will. There’s little evidence they’re effective – they demonstrate only an ill-informed hysteria.

Thus far, a person infected with the Wuhan coronavirus will transmit it to between two and (worst case) six people. A person with measles will transmit it to up to 18 other people.

The risk of dying if you are infected with the Wuhan virus is about 3 per cent. The risk of deaths from the previous coronaviruses were 9.5 per cent for SARS, and 34.5 per cent for MERS.

And for what it’s worth, the risk of dying if you crash your motorbike at speed, with no helmet, is somewhere close to 100 per cent …

So yes, this new coronavirus poses a threat to Cook Islands, but perhaps more through a downturn in tourism than to life and limb.

Public health officials are doing a good job in managing any risk. For the rest of us? We need not be concerned about catching this right now.

Practice the same precautions that you would to prevent catching a cold: wash your hands, use sanitisers, and stay home when you are sick.

But if you really want to make a practical difference to protect your family from harm, make sure they have a measles jab, provide them treated drinking water, cut back on sugar, practice good food hygiene – and don’t let them drink and drive.