New screening measures coming to YVR after virus outbreak in China

VANCOUVER — Just days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced it would begin screening some arriving passengers from China at three major U.S. airports for possible symptoms of a new respiratory virus that has killed at least two people, Canadian health authorities confirmed airports in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal would implement new measures as well.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CTV News Vancouver it is “actively monitoring” the new coronavirus health officials say originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

While the “the overall risk of disease spread to Canada is considered low,” the PHAC said, passengers should expect to see some changes at international arrivals at YVR over the next week.

According to the PHAC, those changes include new messages on arrival screens reminding travelers to report any flu-like symptoms.

Canada Border Services Agency also confirmed that electronic kiosks in the immigration hall will be updated with an additional “health screening question.”

The measures do not go as far those implemented at New York-JFK, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where health experts are now individually screening all inbound passengers from Wuhan for fever and flu-like symptoms.

Vancouver does not have any direct flights from Wuhan, but has more than a dozen daily possible one-stop connections through cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Dr. Rhonda Low, a family physician with Vancouver-based Copeman Healthcare, says the new measures are all about creating awareness.

“It’s really an important public health strategy that we have people thinking about it,” Low said.

Low encouraged anyone traveling to or from the region to monitor themselves and family members for any flu-like symptoms, especially on return to Canada, and to immediately report any concerns to their personal physician.

Canadians travelling abroad are encouraged to consult the Travel Health Notice for China.

John Zhang, who was flying on Sunday with his wife and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Claire, to the coastal city of Qingdao to celebrate the Lunar New Year with family, told CTV News he was concerned.

“I’m following it,” Zhang said. “Qingdao is in northern China, far away, but I’m still a little bit concerned.”

Zhang said news about the mysterious virus brought back memories of the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. SARS was also a coronavirus; it spread to more than two dozen countries, including Canada, and killed nearly 800.

So far, the new coronavirus has killed at least two older adults in China, at least one with a pre-existing condition, and infected nearly 50.

Thailand and Japan have also confirmed cases, with a handful of other Asian countries stepping up health screening of passengers from China.

Symptoms have included fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Some patients have developed pneumonia.

Health officials believe the coronavirus originated at a seafood market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for cleaning and disinfection.

And, while the World Health Organization said there is no clear evidence the new virus is easily transmitted between people, it acknowledged as new reports of cases come in, there may be “limited human-to-human spread.”

Making detection more complicated, experts say, is that much of the world is at the height of flu season.

No matter the origin of the coronavirus, Low said, travellers like the Zhang family can protect themselves by taking simple steps like frequent hand-washing, sneezing into a tissue, and coughing into your arm instead of a hand.

When asked what he planned to do differently during his trip, Zhang said: “personal hygiene and try not to go to a lot of public places.”  

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