‘A sinking feeling’: Canadian experts on when coronavirus first felt like a serious risk

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For many Canadian infectious disease experts, the first inkling of the new coronavirus came in a New Year’s Eve email from the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases.

The program, called ProMED for short, usually sends out multiple daily alerts, with updates on infections impacting humans, animals and agriculture.

The email blast in question had a line about pneumonia patients in Wuhan, China. There was, as Dr. Zain Chagla remembers it, “eerie references to SARS,” but also some suggestion that it might be Legionnaires — a severe type of pneumonia you can get from bacteria in water or soil.

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Even after it was clearly a coronavirus, Chagla says there was “initial fear but calm given this seemed localized.”

We know now, it’s not.

Cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have topped one million worldwide. For those who went from their normal routine to being isolated indoors within weeks, it might seem out of the blue.

It wasn’t for those in the field. Here are 14 Canadian experts on how they first heard about the new coronavirus and the moment they knew it was serious. Their answers have been edited and condensed.


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