Second presumptive case of coronavirus diagnosed in Canada; first case confirmed

TORONTO — The first Wuhan coronavirus case in Canada has been confirmed as positive, health officials said Monday, while a second case, involving the man’s wife, is considered “presumptive positive”.

The woman, who has not exhibited symptoms, and her husband recently returned to Toronto from Wuhan. The husband was taken to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences by ambulance on Jan. 23, where he is in stable condition and being kept in isolation. His wife has been in self-isolation since arriving in Toronto, Ontario health officials said. 

“In many ways, this new case is not surprising,” and the risk to Ontarians remains low, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams reiterated in a press conferenceon Monday.

Toronto Public Health has been in regular contact with the woman during her self-isolation period, officials said.

The couple, who are in their 50s, both wore masks for the duration of the flight as a precaution, health officials said, and were picked up in a private vehicle where the driver also wore a mask. They were taken straight home, where they live alone.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top public health official, echoed Williams’ comments that the risk remains low, in part because the two had close contact for an extended period of time.

“Canadians should not be concerned that they can pick up the virus from an infected individual by any casual contact, such as walking through the airport or another public place,” she said in a teleconference.

Officials are following protocols and actively following up with passengers on China Southern Airlines flight CZ311 from Guangzhou, China, who were in close proximity to the couple and have made contact with a few. The couple’s flight landed at Pearson International Airport at 3:46 p.m. on Jan.22.

Williams told CTV’s Your Morning earlier Monday that the entire plane was not at risk because it’s a “droplet-spread organism.”

A public call for passengers on that flight could still be made if necessary, said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto, while still taking into account various concerns, including privacy.

Officials also noted that individuals have been self-identifying as having symptoms of a respiratory virus, but no other cases have been identified so far.

“There is no perfect screening system in an airport. In fact, for SARS, we were doing thermal screening at the airport and it was found to be totally ineffective,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health.

There are also no plans at the moment to restrict incoming flights from China, Williams said, adding that Canadian officials are taking direction from the World Health Organization and other experts.

OTHER CASES UNDER INVESTIGATION

Samples from the two cases were sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for full confirmation. Authorities said it will take about 48 hours for that lab to complete their test.

There are 19 other cases under investigation, officials said, and another 15 ruled out as negative so far. The cases being investigated involve people who have shown relevant symptoms and have also travelled to the city of Wuhan or Hubei province.

Prof. David Fisman Dalla, infectious diseases expert at the University of Toronto, told CTV News there remains no need for Canadians to worry.

“As I told my mom and dad this morning, the risk to Canadians as of today is 0.00000,” he said. “There is no risk to Canadians as of January 27th.”

“Your risk of dying of flu is extremely low, but it is infinitely higher than your risk of dying of novel coronavirus, as of right now. I think it’s the novelty and lack of control that is driving people’s overestimation of risk.”

An outbreak of the virus that began in Wuhan has killed 80 people, with roughly 2,800 cases confirmed so far. Most of the cases are centered in Wuhan, but more than 40 have been confirmed elsewhere.

A total of 17 cities in China are currently on lockdown, limiting the movement of more than 50 million people during what is normally the world’s busiest travel period due to the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

The country has extended that holiday into February in an effort to keep the public at home. Many large public events and gatherings have also been cancelled, while a number of major tourist sites including The Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland have closed until further notice.

On Monday, the Canadian government issued a notice to avoid all travel to the Hubei province of China, including the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou due to the heavy travel restrictions currently enforced in the region.

“We are in contact with a number of Canadians on the ground, providing consular assistance with respect to their specific needs,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said. “We are also liaising with our international partners to look at options to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all Canadians who would need consular assistance at this moment.”

There are a number of Canadians who have registered with the voluntary Registration of Canadians Abroad service, and Champagne encouraged Canadians to register to help stay in touch and have access to up-to-date information.

DIFFERENT ERA THAN SARS

Health officials said that Ontario has implemented enhanced screening measures at 911 call centres to help identify potential cases of the virus and to ensure that first responders arrive in appropriate protective gear when necessary.

Health officials underscored the difference between the SARS outbreak 17 years ago and the coronavirus.

“We’re constantly learning and updating our knowledge in respect of this novel virus,” said de Villa, who added that the new virus was only identified a month ago.

“To have this much information, and this much understanding, and this much knowledge shared globally I think is actually quite remarkable and a positive statement on the international public health community.”

But experts say there is still a lot of unknown factors regarding the coronavirus, including when a patient would be considered no longer infectious. 

Williams said the number of infections are also too small at the moment to get an accurate measure of the virus’ communicability. For the time being, it appeared to be less than influenza A, for example, but that much more information is needed. “It’s still early days,” he said.

He also said the ministry also has comprehensive preparedness measures in place should the situation escalate.

“Preparedness is such that we are well ahead of where we were back in 2003, where everyone thinks about SARS. It’s a different world, different era now.”

Health officials also noted that the number of staff trained for infectious diseases is significantly greater than it was during SARS, with hospitals having infections control committees and infection control practitioners.

The best advice for the public is to stay at home if an individual feels sick or has symptoms of a viral respiratory illness, and to seek medical attention if symptoms worsen, said de Villa. Good practices like getting the annual flu shot, hand washing or using hand sanitizer, covering a cough or sneeze, and not touching the face and mouth are important.

“Those are the elements that are core and fundamental to respiratory virus prevention … staying home when one is sick is also one of the cornerstones with respect respiratory virus prevention,” said de Villa, but added that the biggest risk factor in this case remained travel to the affected areas.

Canadians who need emergency consular help can contact the Embassy of Canada in Beijing at 86 (10) 5139-4000. Canadians can also call the department’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 or email sos@international.gc.ca.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins and The Canadian Press

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