Actions on virus need to be informed ones

Weyburn This Week editorial

There is a secondary factor for health officials beyond how to deal with the new coronavirus, now named Covid19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), and that is the fear of this virus.

There have been rather extraordinary measures taken to try and contain this virus in China, where most of the cases of infection originated, as whole cities and provinces are locked down, affecting over 50 million residents, plus any visitors to that region.

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What is driving the fear is the daily increase in the  number of infection cases and deaths due to the virus. As of the day of this writing, there are over 45,000 known cases of infection, and over 1,100 deaths, and it is a virtual certainty by the time a reader sees this, those numbers will be higher.

A couple from Weyburn, Tom and Marilyn Schuck, are caught up in the fear as they are on board the cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which is carrying over 2,200 passengers and crew. This ship does not have a single reported case of anyone with Covid19, but the ship has been turned away from five ports.

At last word, after Thailand refused them to dock, they were on their way to Cambodia, unless that country too refuses them permission.

This is in spite of the fact that two cruise ships are in ports under quarantine, because both of these ships actually have passengers that are infected with the virus. This ship, the Westerdam, has no infections whatsoever for any countries to deal with, yet they are being turned away repeatedly.

There is a historic parallel from the Second World War, where one of the most shameful episodes occurred as a ship, the SS St. Louis, was turned away from docking because they were carrying Jewish refugees, trying to escape the horrors of the Nazis.

Cuba allowed a few people to disembark, but most of the 937 Jewish refugees were not allowed to get off the ship. The United States and then Canada also refused to allow them to dock, and the ship had to sail back to Europe where they got off in Belgium.

In the end, 254 of these passengers died as the Nazis spread through Europe, carrying out the Holocaust as they sought to exterminate all Jewish people.

No one is looking to exterminate the ship passengers of the Westerdam, but the parallels are still eerie to consider: the cruise ship is being rejected, not due to actual cases of infection, but simply due to the fear of it. The ship only has a finite supply of fuel and food, so they can’t be sailing around indefinitely.

The hope is, by the time readers see this, that the passengers are finally allowed to disembark in Cambodia, and they can make arrangements to fly home from there. Meantime, the hope also is that authorities will not let fear dictate actions, but they will make informed decisions about dealing with the virus.