Monitoring for the novel coronavirus in Canada will now shift into a new phase, focusing on people returning from areas of China that haven’t been quarantined, top provincial and federal medical officials said Thursday.
It has now been 14 days — the maximum incubation period for the virus — since some cities in China were essentially locked down, including the city of Wuhan where the outbreak originated. Anyone who returned from those regions before that time would have likely already shown symptoms if they were infected.
But Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said officials can’t be complacent. Even with the incubation period ending for anyone who would have come to Canada from the now-quarantined cities, more people in Ontario are still being tested each day for the virus, Williams said.
More and more, doctors are asking for patients to be tested who don’t strictly meet the case definition of symptoms plus recent travel to the affected area, he said. People who have been to areas near the quarantined cities may still have been in contact with an infected person, Williams said.
“Even if you weren’t in the big city of Wuhan your concerns may be valid enough that we’d like to talk to you and we’d like to have you self-monitor or maybe self-isolate, depending on the situation,” Williams said. “And if you do get symptomatic, we probably will want to test you because you may have been close enough to a travel area of concern that you might have inadvertently gotten exposed.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said efforts to monitor the potential spread of the coronavirus is entering an important period. Health authorities, she said, are assessing whether quarantines put in place overseas have helped curb the outbreak.
“In the next days we hope to see if there’s any signs that some of these measures may be beginning to take effect,” she said.
Tam is recommending that travellers returning from Hubei province, the most affected area that includes Wuhan, limit contact with other people for 14 days after departure.
“We’re looking for people to self-isolate to contribute to the global containment effort to interrupt the line of spread,” she said. “During this period of time, out of precaution and total amount of prudence, if you like, we feel that this is the right message.”
People entering Canada from other parts of China should closely monitor themselves for symptoms, Tam said. Those include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
The outbreak has now infected more than 28,200 people globally and killed more than 560. In Canada, there are five cases, three in Ontario and two in British Columbia.
Canadians with concerns are being asked to contact their local public health department.