Canadian health officials are escalating their response to the growing coronavirus outbreak, urging anyone returning from the Chinese province at the centre of the outbreak to voluntarily quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Theresa Tam said Thursday the world is facing a critical moment, during which vigilant public-health measures are needed to contain the new coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV.
“We’re looking for people to self-isolate to contribute to the global containment effort to interrupt the line of spread,” Dr. Tam said. “We feel that this is the right message.”
On Thursday, B.C. officials announced two more people in the province had tested positive for the virus. The two individuals are visitors from Hubei. Earlier this week, the woman they were visiting tested positive for the virus.
Canada’s response doesn’t go as far as other countries, such as the United States, Japan, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia, which have closed their borders to recent travellers from China. Experts say such restrictions may delay but won’t stop the transmission of the virus. They’re also economically damaging, which can lead officials to conceal information about viral outbreaks from the world.
Until now, Canadian health officials said it would not be necessary for returning travellers from the Chinese province of Hubei to remain under quarantine. Instead, the advice was for travellers to monitor themselves for any symptoms and contact health authorities if any developed. As researchers learn more about the outbreak, how the virus is transmitted and how it can be contained, public policy has to adapt, Dr. Tam said.
“We felt that we need to enhance this global effort,” Dr. Tam said.
It’s been about two weeks since Chinese officials locked down the Hubei province, cutting off travel and closing highways. It’s unclear how many individuals will be affected by this new advisory, or if the government will need to expand it to more regions. The maximum incubation period for the virus is 14 days.
“This is actually quite an important period,” Dr. Tam said. “In the next days, we hope to see if there are any signs that some of these measures may be beginning to take effect.”
Some Ontario clinicians are requesting that patients who had been to China be tested for the coronavirus, even if they were not in the Hubei region, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said Thursday. The province is testing those people who have concerns they may be infected, even if the risks are low, which demonstrates the system is working, Dr. Williams said.
Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said the enhanced measures show health officials want to stop the spread of the virus, but also demonstrate to the public that they are being pro-active.
“I think there’s a lot more pressure now on governments and health networks to be as responsive as possible,” he said. “The public just wants to see that we’re doing something.”
Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network, said the risks posed by the coronavirus are low in Canada and questioned whether they warrant the blanket quarantine advice to all those coming to Canada from the affected area.
“I still think there is not enough information out there to support anything beyond acting once symptoms develop. That’s still the cue,” Dr. Hota said.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said health professionals and the public can expect more policy changes as the world starts to understand more about the virus.
“I think as we learn more about how this infection is transmitted and as we learn more about where this infection is and how it’s spreading, we can certainly expect to see policy changes at the federal provincial and even local levels to really keep up with this emerging data,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than 200 Canadians and others were airlifted from Wuhan on Thursday. They are set to begin their 14-day quarantine period at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., when they arrive on Friday. A second charter plane will airlift remaining citizens from the region on Feb. 10.
The federal government is advising against all travel to the Hubei region and all non-essential travel to China. Any Canadians who are in China should seek to leave using commercial means as soon as possible, according to government officials.
As of Thursday, at least 30,000 cases of the virus have been diagnosed and more than 600 people have died as a result of the illness. The vast majority of cases are in China, but two dozen countries around the world have also reported cases of the coronavirus. There have been seven cases of the virus diagnosed in Canada: four in British Columbia and three in Ontario. All are recovered or expected to recover.
With reports from Michelle Carbert