The Novel Coronavirus: Privilege in Global Health Emergencies

Alexea Johnston, Queens University.


The novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) was officially named to be a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. As cities began to be quarantined, global panic surrounding the virus began to increase. The first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was reported from Wuhan, China on December 31st 2019 – just in time for the new year (World Health Organization). With over 11,000 confirmed cases (Ebbs, 2020) of the 14380 cases worldwide (Fottrell), Wuhan remains to be the epicenter of the epidemic.

Over a month into the new health epidemic, the novel coronavirus has not proven to be as deadly as similar viruses, such as, SARS. Recent data currently states that the novel coronavirus has now caused approximately 304 fatalities (Fottrell, 2020), with the first fatality from outside of China being reported on Sunday (Held, 2020). Compared to SARS fatality rate of 9.6%, currently, the novel coronavirus has the death rate of 2.1% (Fottrell, 2020). However, with an incubation period of up to two-week the virus has a large window of time to be passed on through person-to-person contact.

Novel coronavirus is highly contagious and, like other strains of coronaviruses, is pneumonia-causing. Pneumonia is an infection that leads to the inflammation of the lungs, in some cases the lungs may fill with fluid or puss causing breathing difficulties for the patient. While most patients recover from a pneumonia, at-risk groups with weakened immune systems or other health conditions may have a rapid decline in their health (Seladi-Schulman, 2018).

The media coverage of the novel coronavirus also highlights the public response to the global epidemic. With the absence of scientific knowledge, prejudices arise. As the coronavirus epidemic grows, being Chinese has become “shunned” in many Western countries, including Canada where there have been four confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (Grant & Stone, 2020). Social scientists have begun to fear that the dangerous narratives surrounding the coronavirus is encouraging racism and hate against vulnerable populations instead of sympathy (Ong, 2020). Racism in the face of health epidemic is not a new phenomenon. Similar responses have been observed in the face of SARS, AIDs and in the scare over Ebola which was used to perpetuate prejudices over Africans (Ong, 2020).

While the panic surrounding the novel coronavirus begins to rise, some are beginning to compare the epidemic to the plague. Others are beginning to draw on some similarities between the novel coronavirus and other flu-like epidemics. For instance, the 2009 H1N1 influenza, otherwise known as the swine flu, originated in Mexico and spread globally despite efforts made to contain it. In early reports, the H1N1 virus created worldwide panic with the predicted fatality rate of 7%, however, after several months this was shown to be a gross overestimation. The H1N1 influenza virus only had the fatality rate of 0.1%, which was comparable to other human influenza viruses (Boni, 2020). Similarly, the fatality rate of the novel coronavirus could still fall to become lower than the current 2.1%.

Unfortunately, in the face of global epidemic and pandemic, Western countries don’t often face the biggest blow. When they hit, they usually hit the poorer developing populations first. In developing countries, the rapid expansion of human settlement and livestock production amplifies the risk of pandemic. Furthermore, outbreaks are likely to go undetected due to the lack of healthcare access. In response to pandemic, developing countries don’t have the same resources and the population is likely to already be suffering from malnutrition and suppressed immune systems (Oppenheilm & Yamey, 2017).

As we confront the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Canadian population must come to realize the privilege of our universal access to healthcare. Instead of making jokes through social media, or contributing to racial prejudices, we must aim to become more educated on the cause and effects of the epidemics and pandemics we face globally.



Boni, Maciej. “Is the Coronavirus Outbreak as Bad as SARS?” LiveScience, Purch, 31 Jan. 2020,

Grant, Kelly, and Laura Stone. “Fourth Case of Novel Coronavirus Confirmed in Canada.” The Globe and Mail, 31 Jan. 2020,

Held, Amy. “Apple Will Temporarily Close Stores In China Amid Rapid Spread Of Coronavirus.” NPR, NPR, 1 Feb. 2020,

“Official Coronavirus Count Nears 12,000 but This Model Estimates 75,000 Infections.”, 1 Feb. 2020,

Ong, Jonathan Corpus, et al. “Coronavirus Coverage Shows How Epidemics Can Spread Racism.” OpenDemocracy, 30 Jan. 2020,

Oppenheim, Ben, and Gavin Yamey. “Pandemics and the Poor.” Brookings, Brookings, 19 June 2017,

Seladi-Schulman, Jill. “Why the Pneumonia Can be Deadly for Some People”. Healthline, 29 Aug. 2018,