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Lessons learned from SARS

Queen’s medical experts discuss the ongoing response to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus.

Visual of the outbreak on a world map captured from the John Hopkins CSSE tracking dashboard.
The John Hopkins Centre for Systems Science and Engineering has been tracking the outbreak on a live map, pictured here.

The School of Policy Studies convened a panel of leading Queen’s medical experts to discuss how lessons learned during the 2003 SARS outbreak may inform our response to a growing number of cases of a new coronavirus strain.

“Ontario learned many lessons from SARS, says David Walker, Queen’s professor of emergency and family medicine, and former Chair of the Ontario expert Panel on SARS and infectious Disease Control. “We learned to respect surveillance, to communicate clearly, and to develop best practices in protecting the public and healthcare workers.”

Dr. Walker was joined on the panel by Gerald Evans, Chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Queen’s professor of medicine; Samantha Buttemer, Family Physician and Resident in Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Queen’s; and Kieran Moore, professor of emergency and family medicine, and Medical Officer of Health with the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Public Health. They shared expert insight on how officials managed the 2003 SARS outbreak, and fielded questions from members of the public in attendance about their thoughts on the new coronavirus.

“The emergence of novel coronavirus in 2020 represents a real-world test of the collaborations between basic science, virology, modern medical science, infection prevention and control, and public health policy and their combined ability to control the spread of dangerous new pathogens,” says Dr. Evans. “The sharing of information between public health and medical officials, both nationally and internationally, and the speed at which we can communicate, are light years ahead of where we were in 2003 with SARS.”

Concerns over the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) originating from Wuhan, China, have escalated in past weeks as the number of cases has grown, leading to comparisons to the SARS outbreak that impacted Toronto 17 years ago. Canadian health authorities confirmed three cases of the disease – two in Ontario and one in British Columbia – but maintain that the risk of contracting the virus is low. Queen’s University is actively monitoring the situation and is providing pertinent updates to staff, student, and faculty on its Environmental Health and Safety website.

The public panel discussion took place on Jan. 30, 2020 at Queen’s University’s Robert Sutherland Hall. Below you can watch a recording of the event's online broadcast.