Opinion: It was reckless of this Burnaby politician to spread coronavirus story

Metro Vancouver has officially reached the panic stage of the coronavirus outbreak after the province and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control announced the region’s first confirmed case on Tuesday.

And when I say panic, I mean it.

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Some people have resorted to cutting out the bottoms of water jugs and wearing the other part over their head in some bizarre prevention measure. Hundreds have been lining up to buy paper facemasks that experts say will do little to protect you from catching coronavirus.

Stumbling into this frenzy this week was Burnaby Coun. James Wang carrying his gigantic gas can to pour on the fire.

Wang was sharing a story with local Chinese media about a supposed incident in which a visitor from China was sent home from Burnaby Hospital, Vancouver General Hospital and a Burnaby clinic despite having told health-care providers they had recently come from Wuhan, where relatives had been diagnosed with the virus. Some reports from Chinese-language media outlets include a list of locations in Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby where the individual is said to have visited. You can read the NOW story here.

The reaction to Wang’s post was swift and hysterical. The NOW has been inundated with dozens of panicked calls, emails and social media messages asking if this story is true. Many of these people have personally relayed to me that they are avoiding public places like Crystal Mall, a well-known Asian shopping centre in Burnaby.

The problem is that Wang is spreading a story that the experts at the BCCDC and B.C.’s provincial health officer Bonnie Henry both say is “unconfirmed” and presents “no risk” to the public.

“Even if the case is confirmed, given what we know about the virus and human-to-human transmission, the risk to British Columbians is very low,” said a statement from the B.C. Ministry of Health.

Henry also urged people to not spread rumours about unconfirmed coronavirus cases.

Too bad Wang didn’t heed this advice.

If Wang had taken the time to gather this input from the experts, perhaps he would have reconsidered spreading it on social media. If there is “no risk,” what’s the point of posting about it on social media? All that’s done is create more hysteria.

Wang told the NOW in an interview Monday that he was just sharing it so people could take extra precautions.

It was a reckless decision. I’m sure Wang meant well, but he showed terrible judgment here.

He should have simply allowed the authorities to investigate and provide an official explanation.

The BCCDC has experts trained in how to present this information to the public.

I expected better from an elected politician.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.


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