OTTAWA - Canadians shouldn’t panic over concerns about the spread of a new type of coronavirus identified in central China, the Canadian Public Health Agency told a media briefing late Monday.
The new type of respiratory virus has killed three and infected more than two hundred individuals mostly in Wuhan, China where it was originally identified, as well as a handful of others in neighbouring countries. The virus, believed to have been spread to humans from animals via a seafood market in Wuhan, has made international headlines in the past week. On Monday, the World Health Organization announced it would be holding an emergency meeting later this week in light of new evidence that the virus is able to spread between humans. The new coronavirus belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS and symptoms have included fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, said the risk of the virus spreading to or within Canada is low based on Canada’s infrastructure surrounding the containment and control of diseases and the most current information that shows the person-to-person spreading of this strain is limited.
Despite the relatively low risk, Tam said it is important for Canada to take the virus seriously and exercise an abundance of caution, especially with regard to travel, to minimize any threat.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we have new information coming out of China and other countries on an ongoing basis,” Tam said.
“We have multiple systems in play to identify prevent and control the spread of serious infectious diseases in Canada and we will keep the public informed as the situation evolves.”
Tam said the federal public health agency has been in contact with its provincial counterparts and is taking precautionary measures at major Canadian international airports.
In the coming days, Tam said signs will be placed at airports in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver about the new virus and reminding people coming into Canada to tell border service officers if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms or if they have travelled to high-risk areas, or had contact with sick individuals or animals. There will also be additional health screening questions for travellers entering Canada on digital airport kiosks.
“With that information, it becomes easier for us to be able to follow up and ensure those who are sick at the borders. ... have a safe entry into the health system if that is necessary and certainly the border service agency can refer passengers to the quarantine office if needed,” she said
“We will be investigating travellers with flu-like symptoms and the health system has been alerted to the situation so they can take effective measures.”
So far, the agency says three Canadians who had travelled to Wuhan recently had been tested for the virus, and have been found to be free of the infection.
In light of the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year which begins later this month and generally results in an uptick of Canadians travelling to China and vice versa, the federal government is also advising travellers to China to take extra precautions. These include avoiding high-risk areas such as farms and live animal markets, avoiding contact with animals and animal excrement and avoiding contact with sick people.
As for the virus itself, Tam said information on the incubation period, how it is spread and its effects are still limited.
“We don't know the full spectrum of clinical illness and it may be less severe than the other coronaviruses,” she said.
Other than the extra precautions for travellers, Tam said it’s business as usual for the Canadian healthcare system, which is busy dealing with another, more routine form of a potentially deadly respiratory virus, the seasonal influenza.
She said Canada will be closely monitoring any developments on the virus and any recommendations out of the WHO meeting later this week.