Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says several people in Canada are under observation for signs they may have contracted a coronavirus from China, but that the risk to Canadians remains low.
Hajdu said five or six people are being monitored in Canada, including at least one in Vancouver and another in Quebec.
She said one person was cleared of having the virus, but health officials are monitoring the others.
“At this point, there has not been a positive case in Canada,” Hajdu told reporters ahead of a meeting of Liberal MPs on Parliament Hill on Thursday. “The risk is low to Canadians.”
The head of Quebec’s public health authority said in fact five people in that province are currently under surveillance for possible exposure.
The five, from the Montreal and Quebec City areas, had travelled to China “and have a history that could be compatible with the fact they could have been exposed,” Dr. Horacio Arruda said.
At least 17 people have died in China. The city at the centre of the outbreak, Wuhan, is under quarantine as health officials scramble to understand the mysterious disease and keep it from spreading.
The World Health Organization is contemplating whether to declare a global health emergency because of the disease, which has infected at least 500 people in China, with cases popping up in other countries as well.
“Obviously, we take very seriously this issue of the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“Our health minister is engaged with her partners at the provincial level and we’re working with international partners as well to ensure that we have the best response possible.”
For now, people flying into Canada from overseas are being encouraged to self-report if they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms.
Trudeau said the government is “of course looking at any extra measures that need to be taken to keep Canadians safe and to prevent the spread of this virus.”
Hajdu said it is too early to determine what additional measures may be required.
“I think it’s important that we’re not alarmist, but that we’re cautious and we’re prudent, and that’s exactly what Canada is doing,” Hajdu said.
For comparison, annual outbreaks of seasonal influenza typically sicken three million to five million people and kill 290,000 to 350,000 around the globe, according to the World Health Organization.
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