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KARYGIANNIS: The lesson we didn’t learn from SARS

Toronto Sun Op Ed February 18, 2020

In recent weeks, Toronto has been gripped by a type of fear it has not felt in almost 17 years.

When SARS arrived in 2003, I was the MP for Scarborough-Agincourt — ground zero in Canada. The Scarborough Grace Hospital, in the heart of the riding, was the hotbed of the virus.

The SARS outbreak was the biggest test that Scarborough-Agincourt had ever faced. People stockpiled supplies and did not leave their homes for weeks on end.

Community doctors were fighting to save patients. Two of my staff were placed in quarantine after visiting Scarborough Grace in the early days of the outbreak.

Many of my Chinese constituents bore the brunt of public fear and anger, facing discrimination and racial slurs directed at them. Local Chinese businesses faced a significant downturn in business.

In 2003, I received many messages from Chinese-Canadian constituents expressing their sadness at becoming the subject of xenophobia and discrimination. To help mitigate the backlash, I worked with community stakeholders by holding town halls and encouraging support of local businesses

Seventeen years later, in the face of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Toronto residents are understandably frightened.

This time, Canada was ready. I have received personal assurances from doctors at Scarborough Grace Hospital that they were ready and prepared for any potential coronavirus outbreak.

I am disappointed to see the re-emergence of behaviours that I thought we left behind in 2003. It appears that we have not learned from the past that, in times of need, we have to work together.

Actions such as leaving nasty comments on social media, or enforcing stereotypes, at the expense of Chinese community members are not ways to deal with this issue.

Medically, we were ready, but we still have a lot to learn about facing community issues together.

Today, as in 2003, I stand with the residents of Scarborough-Agincourt as we support each other in this time of need.

I urge all Torontonians to:

— Source facts from the official public health agencies.

— Maintain a high level of personal hygiene.

— Don’t listen to or spread rumours.

— Be good to one another.

In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, we have “nothing to fear but fear itself.”

— Karygiannis is Toronto councillor for Scarborough-Agincourt  (Ward 22 )