Montreal

Montreal doctor defends his comparison of flu to COVID-19 after comments spark controversy

After coming under fire for comparing the seasonal flu to COVID-19, a leading Montreal doctor is staunchly defending his efforts to stave off the pandemic while further explaining why the consequences of the two diseases are similar.

Both flu and COVID-19 are deadly, can lead to long-term health consequences, Rosenberg says

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest de l'île de Montréal, said COVID-19 'probably isn't much more dangerous' than the flu on CTV News. (Jewish General Hospital)

After coming under fire for comparing the seasonal flu to COVID-19, a leading Montreal doctor is staunchly defending his efforts to stave off the pandemic while further explaining why the consequences of the two diseases are similar.

"Despite any misimpressions that may exist in some corners of society, the fact is that the flu remains an extremely hazardous adversary," says  Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg in a statement issued Wednesday. 

"Both COVID-19 and the flu — I am not referring to the common cold – can be deadly enemies."

Rosenberg points out that the flu is mitigated by vaccines, while COVID-19 has none yet. Also, he says, both the flu and the coronavirus can leave survivors with lasting health problems.

In an interview on CTV News last week, Rosenberg, who heads the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest de l'île de Montréal, said COVID-19 "probably isn't much more dangerous than the seasonal flu."

That caught the attention of experts and even the province's health minister who announced on Tuesday that his team was looking into the remarks to better understand the context.

Meanwhile, Rosenberg's comments were touted as validation by online conspiracy theorists who downplay the threat of COVID-19.

Many wrongly believe flu isn't serious, Rosenberg says

All the attention finally prompted Rosenberg to respond, issuing his statement both in French and English.

"It is certainly true that differences do exist between the two illnesses," says Rosenberg. 

"The current misunderstanding arises, however, from my statement comparing COVID-19 to the flu."

Because the flu has been around for so long and can be prevented with a vaccine, "many of us have wrongly come to believe that it is not a serious disease," he says.

Because of this, some people have "improperly chosen to think that I am equating the threat level of COVID-19 with that of the supposedly insubstantial flu" rather than past pandemics.

Distraught over impact of COVID-19

As for how he and his team have approached the current pandemic,  he said preparations were being made by the end of 2019 as officials knew the disease was on its way to Canada from overseas.

"I am distraught over the toll that the virus is taking on so many. I am also proud of the care and leadership provided by the team at CIUSSS West-Central Montreal," he says. 

Rosenberg says he has taken every opportunity to remind the public of the threat posed by COVID-19. And, in the letter, he says it is now more important than ever that people get vaccinated against the seasonal flu.

"Contracting both the flu and COVID-19 could be devastating, which represents one more reason for wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands regularly," he says.

"Both of these diseases are very serious and both demand our ongoing vigilance."

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