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COMMENTARY: Japan caught in the grip of a virus delivered by sea and air


TOKYO — The greatest concentration of Canadians with the illness caused by COVID-19 coronavirus is not in British Columbia or Ontario. It is in a string of unidentified hospitals around the Japanese capital.

It is here in Tokyo that 43 unnamed Canadians from the Princess Diamond cruise liner were sent to hospital over the past few days after testing positive for the virus. So were 591 other passengers and crew who became infected on the ship. Twenty-eight of those travellers are critically ill and three of them have died, according to Japanese news reports. As of the time of writing, 17 of those who were infected have recovered.

READ MORE: Containing the novel coronavirus — Is COVID-19 here to stay?

Another 130 or so Japanese who had nothing to do with the cruise ship, have fallen ill, too. Among them have been: two young brothers in northern Japan; a father and son who flew out of Wuhan, China, on a charter flight three weeks ago with other evacuees; a healthcare worker; a four-year-old and, even more concerning, a middle school teacher who was conducting classes near Tokyo until just three days ago.

Next door in South Korea, there has been an explosion in the number of cases over the past 72 hours — to 443 from 220. The main conduit for the infections in Korea apparently are a hospital and members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the Montreal-sized city of Daegu.

Italy put a dozen towns in lockdown over the weekend after 30 new cases and two deaths, with a hospital again being implicated in the spread of the virus. Iran has 10 new cases, too, and lacks the kind of quality medical care available in the West or in many Asian countries.

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Adding to the gloom, six Australians who tested negative when they left the Diamond Princess a few days ago have subsequently tested positive while in quarantine back home. So, too, has an Israeli woman from the ship who flew home.

And a Chinese man who was judged to be free of the virus seems to have caught it a second time. If having had the virus does not provide immunity from it, Wuhan’s miseries may have only just begun.

The cold, constantly changing partial tallies listed above strongly suggest a terrifying new phase of the disease that was first diagnosed about 10 weeks ago in China may already be upon us. With every passing hour, the possibility of a global pandemic looks as if it may be increasing.

Whether the medical systems of Canada or any other country is ready for what may be on the way is anybody’s guess. We had all better hope that urgent preparations are being made to have many thousands of isolation beds, antibiotics, rubber gloves and hazmat suits available.

READ MORE: Canadian hospital space a concern despite lessons from SARS, experts say

A first step would be to get Canadians more aware of the deepening global health crisis than they have been until now. Though there has been a lot of media coverage of the coronavirus saga in Canada, it has still often taken a back seat to protests of a small number of unelected hereditary chiefs in northwestern British Columbia who oppose a pipeline that has been approved by their elected leaders, and by the never-ending lunacies of Donald Trump’s presidency and the Democrats’ feeble response.

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