A renowned Canadian epidemiologist who led a team of experts to China to study the novel coronavirus on behalf of the World Health Organization says other countries are not ready for a global outbreak.
Bruce Aylward returned from a two-week mission to China, including the city of Wuhan where the spread of the coronavirus began, urging other countries to get ready for a potential outbreak within their own borders as soon as possible.
He says countries should be looking to China for expertise in how to manage and treat the disease now known as COVID-19, noting that country has taken an aggressive approach to testing, containing and treating people who contract the coronavirus.
Dr. Aylward made his comments as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans to begin to prepare for community spread of the new coronavirus. The announcement by the CDC signalled a change in tone for the U.S. agency, which had largely been focused on efforts to stop the virus from entering the country and quarantining individuals travelling from China.
“The data over the past week about the spread in other countries has raised our level of concern and expectation that we are going to have community spread here,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.
What is not known, she said, is when it will arrive and how severe a U.S. outbreak may be. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she cautioned.
Also Tuesday, the number of people in Italy infected with the new virus spiked by 100 overnight to 322 and the number of deaths increased to 11, according to civil protection officials.
Dr. Aylward warned the spread of the virus seems inevitable and urged all countries to make sure hospitals increase their bed capacity and have enough ventilators for the very sick.
He says they should also prepare to quarantine large numbers of people who come into contact with those who have confirmed cases of the disease.
On Tuesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer took to social media to alert Canadians about the possibility the virus will spread further and the need to do more to prepare.
“For now, the risk within Canada remains low, but the risk is evolving,” Theresa Tam wrote on Twitter. “Concerning developments in recent days tell us the window of opportunity may be closing, but there is still much that Canada can do to delay spread and become more prepared.”
In light of news the coronavirus has spread to Iran, Italy, South Korea and beyond, Dr. Tam is urging all travellers to Canada, regardless of what country they came from, to monitor themselves for any signs of illness, such as a cough or fever, and to call a health provider if any symptoms develop.
Dr. Tam wrote that officials in Canada are constantly monitoring the situation and will update their advice and guidance accordingly.
South Korea reported 169 more cases of the virus on Wednesday, bringing its total number of infections to 1,146.
In Italy, evidence emerged Tuesday that the virus was spreading from the epicentre in northern regions to other European countries with vacationing Italians and other EU citizens who visited the afflicted areas in Italy.
Austria, Croatia and Spain’s Canary Islands reported their first confirmed cases on Tuesday.
“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we’ve implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”
Italy has closed schools, museums and theatres in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicentre of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.
The southern island of Sicily reported its first positive case from a woman vacationing from Bergamo, in Lombardy. Two cases were also reported in Tuscany, well south of the epicentre.
Croatia, meanwhile, confirmed its first case – a man who had been to Milan, the capital of Lombardy. Austria confirmed two cases in a couple who travelled from the city of Bergamo in Lombardy to their home in Innsbruck last Friday.
Spain counted three active cases: a woman in Barcelona who had been in Lombardy in recent days, and a doctor from northern Italy and his partner who were vacationing in the Canary Islands.
The hotel where the couple was staying, the H10 Adeje Palace in Tenerife, was locked down after they tested positive for the virus and 1,000 tourists were prevented from leaving, according to Spanish news media and town officials in Adeje.
“We do remain patient but we haven’t had anything to eat and drink at the hotel today,” Harriet Strandvik, the mother in a family of four stuck at the hotel, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat. “We feel a little bit like monkeys in a cage here as there are media representatives present near the hotel and police officers guarding the area are wearing masks.”
The Canary Islands, an archipelago located around 100 kilometres west of the African coast, is a popular vacation destination that attracts Europeans year-round. Many Italians are vacationing this week as schools have a midwinter break.
In Iran, the country’s deputy health minister and a member of parliament have tested positive for the coronavirus as the death toll inside the country rose to 16 and Iranians worried that authorities could be underestimating the scale of outbreak.
Iran has the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside China, where the virus emerged in December and more than 2,600 have died.
With a report from Carly Weeks
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