Health minister says risk of coronavirus outbreak in Canada remains low

Federal health officials expect more cases of the coronavirus, but say the risk of an outbreak in Canada remains low.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said officials at all levels of government are working with hospitals and international partners to prevent and respond to potential infections. 

“We’re working actively to limit the spread of the virus,” Hajdu said at a news conference in Ottawa Sunday morning after the first “presumptive” case of coronavirus was reported in Toronto.

CBC.ca is carrying the news conference live.

Hajdu said much has been learned about the SARS virus in 2003. Since the first cases were reported in China in December, the federal government has been in close contact with the provincial health authorities and international players to share information and is taking a “collaborative, responsive” approach.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said despite the fact the number of cases in China is increasing, the export to other countries remains low and the risk remains low in Canada.

Tam said the reported case Saturday was “not unexpected.”

Canada confirmed its first “presumptive” case of coronavirus in Toronto on Saturday after receiving lab results. The patient, a man in his 50s who had recently travelled to Wuhan, China, is isolated at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and is now in stable condition.

“The health system is on alert to detect potential cases and to respond promptly when they are confirmed,” Tam said. “It shows that our systems are working.”

Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, agreed that the case was not unexpected, and that other cases in Canada are likely.

The number of infections worldwide now exceeds 2,000 cases, most of them in China, which reports 56 deaths.

“All necessary precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of infection. This makes it the first case in Canada, pending confirmation of the result by PHAC’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg,” Hajdu said in a statement Saturday.

“The government of Canada has been working closely with provincial and territorial counterparts, and international partners, since China first reported 2019-nCoV cases to ensure that our country is prepared to limit the spread of 2019-nCoV in Canada. Canadian hospitals have strong infection control systems and procedures in place to limit the spread of infection and protect health care workers.”

Risk mitigation measures

Risk mitigation measures now in place include messaging on arrival screens at the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airports reminding travellers to advise border officials if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

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“While the risk of an outbreak of novel coronavirus in Canada remains low, I encourage Canadians to tell your health-care professional if you have travelled to an affected area of China, and develop flu-like symptoms,” Hajdu said.

Officials said the man took a flight on Jan. 21 from Wuhan to Guangzhou, then from Guangzhou to Toronto, arriving on Jan. 22.

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He is believed to have travelled “privately” from the airport to his home. Officials do not believe he took public transit. They have not said what part of the city the man lives in.

Upon arriving, he told family members he felt ill and called 911. Officials say paramedics arrived prepared, taking all necessary precautions “right from first contact” until the hand-off to the hospital’s emergency department on Jan. 23, officials say.

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