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China’s mass quarantines for coronavirus won’t be repeated in Canada: Public health authorities

January 24, 2020
By Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

Canadians have no need to worry about the prospect of mass quarantines, even in the likely event the coronavirus is discovered here, public health authorities said on Friday.

They said scary images coming from a now isolated Wuhan, a Chinese city with 11 million people, will not be repeated here.

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Peter Donnelly, with Public Health Ontario, said. “If a case comes here, and it is probably likely that we will have a case here, it will still be business as normal.”

In addition to Wuhan, where the virus outbreak has been concentrated, China has shut transportation in at least 12 other cities home to more than 36 million people. Bustling streets, malls and other public spaces have turned eerily quiet, masks are mandatory in public, and some hospitals have run low on medical supplies.


Consult credible information

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, urged people to ensure they are consulting credible information sources on the outbreak. Good places for solid information include websites of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Health Ontario and Toronto Public Health, she said.

“I ask members of the public to rely on evidence-informed, credible sources of information when you’re looking for updates,” de Villa said.

So far, the coronavirus is reported to have killed more than two dozen people and made hundreds of others ill. Symptoms can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

Echoes of SARS

While no cases have been reported in Canada, concerns about the virus spreading here have stirred memories of the SARS outbreak in 2003 that killed 44 Canadians and saw Toronto turn temporarily into something of an international pariah after the World Health Organization issued a travel advisory warning people to avoid the city.

Donnelly said the situation is now very different from what it was then. Authorities, he said, are much better prepared than they were for SARS: Communications are more robust, hospitals have better isolation facilities if needed, and a reliable test is available to detect the coronavirus within 24 hours.

“This was a disease unknown to science only two weeks ago and we now have the full genetic fingerprint of the virus and we have a test, which is specific and reliable,” Donnelly said. “In situations like this, speed and certainty are both very important.”

In addition, he said, health officials were working with the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg to develop an even quicker test.

Practice good hygiene

De Villa stressed the importance of practising good hygiene to prevent transmission of viruses. Simple steps include washing hands thoroughly, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if you’re ill.

While the World Health Organization has decided for now against declaring the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency, Donnelly said public health authorities were still doing everything they can to ensure any cases here are dealt with effectively.

“We are not complacent, we’re working extremely hard on this but we are quietly confident that we can handle this,” Donnelly said. “It’s our job to have the back of the people…and to keep them safe.”

On Thursday, Canada’s chief medical officer said the chances of a outbreak here were low. Health officials have pointed to the fact that the common cold comes from the same family as the latest coronavirus and that the influenza virus kills thousands of Canadians every year.

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