Toronto resident travelling to China for Lunar New Year unfazed as coronavirus spreads

A Toronto woman — one of millions of people heading to China for the Lunar New year — says she is unfazed by the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 17 people amid more than 570 confirmed cases.

Nancy Li is travelling to the Chinese city of Guangzhou Wednesday night as the SARS-like coronavirus spreads and health officials in several places expand their enhanced checks.

“This is the first time I go back in five years, that’s why it’s particularly important for me to go,” Li told CBC News.

“I am stocking up the face masks and … hand sanitizer and gloves.”

The coronavirus strain, previously unknown to scientists, was thought to have emerged from an animal market in the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States.

The World Health Organization says it will decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency.

Wuhan is closing its transport networks and advising citizens not to leave the city, Chinese state media reported.

“For Lunar New Year, the human flow is out of Guangzhou into the inland. People are leaving Guangzhou to Wuhan, not the other way around,” Li said.

“If I was going to Wuhan I might really, like, reconsider this trip. There will be less people in Guangzhou this time of the year.”

No confirmed case of coronavirus in Canada

Li said she will be in China for 10 days and is more concerned about going through airports, given the number of people passing through them, some of whom might have been to areas affected by the outbreak.

“I will go home and just basically spend time with my grandma, that’s OK,” Li said.

“I’m worried about the airport and stuff.”

There is no confirmed case of the coronavirus in Canada but Li is also concerned that there might be intense screening in place by the time she returns to Toronto.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, says health authorities are on high alert and are making preparations in the event the coronavirus comes to Canada. (CBC)

For those heading back to Canada after the celebrations, Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, said her first advice to those who are unwell is to avoid contact with other people.

“Keep your illness to yourself,” de Villa said on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

“If, however, you are feeling unwell enough that you feel you need medical attention, then do seek that medical attention,” she added.

“But make sure that you tell your health-care provider, one, of your symptoms; and, two, of any travel history, so that that can be taken into consideration both in terms of diagnosing what you might have and in terms of infection control and prevention measures.”

Authorities on high alert

She said the authorities are also on high alert and are making preparations in the event the coronavirus comes to Canada.

“I think we always thought that there might be some possibility. We have a disease entity that we know had shown some degree of human-to-human transmission. How quickly, how readily it goes from human-to-human is still being established,” de Villa said.

“In a pretty mobile population, particularly here in Canada in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, we see quite a bit of international travel, so I’m not particularly surprised to see some degree of movement of this virus and its emergence in the United States.”

At the same time, de Villa said Toronto has had its share of experience dealing with disease outbreaks.

“I think what’s really important in our case in Toronto, given that we’ve had so much experience — we’ve had the experience of SARS, … pandemic influenza in 2009, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012 — we’ve had lots of experience dealing with this kind of situation, so we feel that we’ve learned the lessons from those and are prepared to put those lessons into action.”

Ready to respond, province says

Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon, Health Minister Christine Elliott said while the risks posed by the new coronavirus to Ontarians remain low, the province is actively monitoring and is ready to respond.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says coronavirus has been added as a designated disease reportable under the province’s public health legislation. (CBC News)

Speaking at a news conference, Elliott said she briefed Premier Doug Ford and her cabinet colleagues earlier in the day on the province’s efforts to monitor the disease and the state of readiness to respond.

“At that meeting our government approved new actions to strengthen the ministry’s ability to monitor any coronavirus cases by adding novel coronavirus as a designated disease reportable under the province’s public health legislation,” Elliott said.

“Now physicians, hospitals and other health-care facilities will be required to report a suspected or confirmed case of the new coronavirus to their local medical officer of health.

“The local public health unit can then quickly and effectively take all necessary measures to investigate, complete lab tests and do case and contact management to prevent and control further spread of the infection,” Elliott added.


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