Toronto doctor warns against becoming ‘paralyzed’ with fear over COVID-19

A Toronto-based infectious disease expert says people should stay calm instead of panicking in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

A March 5 Facebook post by Dr. Abdu Sharkawy — in which he said he is not scared of COVID-19 but concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil — has been shared more than one million times.

“I think it comes down to paying attention to sources that I think people can trust without really being paralyzed and enraptured with fear,” Sharkawy told CBC News on Sunday.

“We have to maintain some degree of functionality in our everyday life. You can’t stop living, you can’t stop using public transit, you can’t stop travelling entirely, because the global economy and our everyday lives depend on being able to maintain those things at least at some level.”

Sharkawy says for the more than 20 years he’s spent working as a doctor in hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa, there is little he’s not been exposed to.

He says, with the notable exception of SARS, very little has left him feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared.

‘I don’t mean to trivialize the situation’

Sharkawy believes the fear some people have of the novel coronavirus is being driven by watching the news and seeing that there is an ever-growing number of cases both within their community and around the world.

“I don’t mean to trivialize the situation by saying that. What I really want is for people to try and do something constructive that will help them protect themselves, their families, their communities and hopefully start to stem the tide of this and break the chain of transmission,” he told CBC News.

“I really think that that is going to win the day at the end of this all; that it’s going to be practices that we take in our own homes, in our own schools, work environment and our communities that’s going to help bring this to an end.”

Sharkawy says he’s not advocating for people to shut themselves off and avoid any sort of media exposure.

Instead he says such exposure needs to be tempered and balanced with credible sources.

“It’s important to pay attention to things that we can do in our everyday lives from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed at night,” Sharkawy says.

“That starts with the simple practice of vigilant hand washing, hand hygiene, keeping hand sanitizer with you in a ready supply wherever you might be.”


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