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OPINION: Uncertainty as the world turns

Murdock Alan-col
Columnist Alan Murdock

What a start to the 21st century version of the roaring ’20s!

Perhaps the most important long-term issue is the race for global predominance in the installation of the fifth generation (5G) wireless technology for digital cellular networks. Presently the race is being won globally by the Chinese government affiliated Huawei. The U.S. is opposed and Canada is being punished.

Australia is on fire.

The impeachment travails of President Donald Trump are a tragic farce.

Alberta Wexit silliness along with the revulsive cowardice by our federal politicians over the rise of religious and racial intolerance and selfishness of Quebec sovereigntists is a poor start to the year.

The assassination of Iranian general Qassam Soleimani appeared initially to be a supportive if uncomfortable event until one recognized that it upset the balance of political power in Iran. The delicate equilibrium of political dominance between the corrupt military and the radical mullahs has now been dangerously tilted in favour of religious zealots. The horrific missile attack on a civilian airline during an attempted revenge attack on Iraq-based western allied soldiers may well have been triggered by President Trump’s shallow strategic thinking. Canada lost some extraordinarily important citizens.

And now we have the threat of a pandemic outbreak of a lethal respiratory infection.

When we are faced with widespread outbreaks of acute lung infections, we reflexively harken back to the 1918 to 1920 Spanish flu pandemic, which was caused by an unusually severe strain of influenza A virus. It killed between 50 and 100 million people and may have been as deadly as the Black Death of 1347 to 1351. Other recent influenza pandemics were Asian Flu (1957), Hong Kong Flu (1968), Russian Flu (1977) and the 2009 flu pandemic.

The current international outbreak is not caused by the influenza virus but by a coronavirus. It is usually milder in effect, attacking mainly the upper respiratory system (nose, sinuses and upper throat), except that the epidemic strains affect the lungs more frequently. Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s. The first known outbreak was named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which started in China’s Guangdong province (next to Hong Kong) sometime in 2002 and peaked in February 2003, at which time WHO was notified and an epidemic was declared. Canada reported 448 cases and 44 deaths. A second variant of coronavirus caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome of 2012, starting in Saudi Arabia and spreading to 27 countries with over 800 deaths and a mortality rate of 35 per cent. Canada was spared. This year’s outbreak involves a third coronavirus variant and began in Wuhan in landlocked Hubei Province in Central China. Wuhan, population 11 million, serves as a major transportation thoroughfare and economic hub with three universities. The mortality rate presently is about 2 per cent.

And now for some positive news. Iran has been largely co-operative with the officials of countries whose citizens were killed in the air crash. China has responded rapidly and openly with WHO and with countries seeking to evacuate their citizens from Hubei. The stock market hasn’t dropped precipitously as it did in early 2019. Britain hasn’t yet collapsed. And Christine Sinclair is the world’s all-time leading soccer goal scorer.

Next up – St. Valentine’s Day.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.

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