More Canadian cases of coronavirus 'would not be unexpected': officials
TORONTO -- While stressing that the risk of the new coronavirus being spread from one person to another in Canada remains low, federal health officials said Sunday that Canadians should not be surprised to hear of more individual cases within the country.
"It would not be unexpected that there would be more cases imported into Canada in the near-term, given global travel patterns," Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said at a news conference.
Canada's first "presumptive positive" case of coronavirus was announced Saturday. Officials have said the virus may have been found in a man in his 50s who travelled to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak, and ended up in hospital one day after returning to Toronto.
The man is being kept in a negative pressure room at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto pending the results of laboratory tests, which are expected to be completed by Monday. His condition remained stable as of Sunday, hospital officials said.
He had flown to Toronto on China Southern Airlines Flight 311 from Guangzhou, China, after previously flying to Guangzhou from Wuhan. His flight landed at Pearson International Airport at 3:46 p.m.on Jan. 22.
"This patient may have had some mild symptoms [on the plane] – certainly not something that would have been particularly obvious," Tam said.
Pearson is one of three Canadian airports, along with the Montreal-Trudeau International Airport and Vancouver International Airport, where enhanced public health measures have been implemented as the outbreak has worsened.
Arrival screens at these airports display messages imploring passengers to alert border security officers if they feel flu-like symptoms and have recently travelled to an area affected by an outbreak. An extra health screening question has also been placed on customs kiosks.
In the circumstance of the man at the centre of the presumptive Canadian case, officials said Sunday that his actions – calling 911 once his symptoms worsened and immediately alerting authorities that he had recently been in Wuhan, allowing paramedics to take proper protections –suggested that the messaging at the airports was effective.
"For me, that is a sign that the information at the [airport] did actually percolate through to the patient," Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Sunday.
Passengers who sat within three rows of the man are being notified about their possible exposure to the virus, as are airline employees who may have been in contact with the man.
OFFICIALS SAY RISK LOW
Tam said that, given the number of cases of the virus around the world involving people who had been to Wuhan, it "was not unexpected" that the coronavirus could eventually make its way to Canada – or that there could be future cases.
She stressed that evidence to date suggests the virus can only be transmitted from person to person through "close contact, and particularly prolonged contact," making the risk of acquiring it from a stranger small.
"Although we now have a case in Canada, the risk to Canadians remains low," she said.
The virus is believed to have originated in an animal sold at a market in Wuhan to be consumed as food, and somehow been transmitted to humans from that animal.
Asked about fears of acquiring the virus by attending Lunar New Year events or other public gatherings, Hajdu downplayed the concerns.
"There is no need for Canadians to be alarmed that they will contract the virus in a casual setting," she said.
"My advice to Canadians is to take normal precautions to protect their health."
Tam noted that influenza season is underway in Canada, and said there is no need for anyone who has not been to Wuhan to take precautions beyond what they would do to avoid the flu or similar illnesses.
"We absolutely advise people to do the usual things – wash your hands, don't cough toward someone, cough into a tissue or into your sleeve [and] stay home when you're sick," she said.
Many coronaviruses cause flu- or cold-like symptoms and carry minimal risk of death. Scientists have yet to determine the power of the new coronavirus.
THE GLOBAL PICTURE
Globally, the death toll from the coronavirus has reached 56. All the deaths have occurred in China, where Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said Sunday that "it seems like the ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger."
The U.S. has made plans to airlift American citizens out of Wuhan, one of a number of cities to essentially be cut off from the rest of China by the government. Hajdu said Sunday that Canada does not expect to follow suit, and that anyone concerned about relatives in the outbreak area should contact Global Affairs Canada.
"At this point, it doesn't appear that we have the need to charter a plane," she said.
Canada has issued a travel advisory for Hubei, the province that includes Wuhan, warning citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the area. Tam said a full travel ban is unlikely to be enacted unless the World Health Organization first issues similar guidance.