Border officials to screen, quarantine travellers at YVR as coronavirus outbreak grows
VANCOUVER -- CTV News has learned that Canada Border Service Agency officials are now asking all international travellers at Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal airports if they have visited the Chinese province at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak, with action taken against sick passengers.
"Travellers who have visited Wuhan will be subject to additional screening to help prevent the possible spread of this infectious disease into Canada," said an email statement from CBSA, with those experiencing flu-like symptoms "referred to (Public Health Agency of Canada) quarantine officers."
In an emailed statement to CTV News Tuesday evening, PHAC said a health screening question will be added to electronic kiosks, and signs will go up on arrival screens reminding the public to tell a border services officer if they have flu-like symptoms.
The signs were active at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) Tuesday, and a statement from B.C.'s health ministry suggested the quarantine officers are already available.
First case in North America
A spokesperson said PHAC had been in contact with the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following an update from American officials that a case had made landfall in North America.
The U.S. announced its first confirmed case Tuesday morning, in Everett, Wash. Shortly after that confirmation, sources tell CTV News that a "physicians alert" was issued to Vancouver doctors advising them about the outbreak.
Travellers who aren't sick but have been to Wuhan will get an information package. Screens at the international arrivals hall at Vancouver International Airport will also urge passengers to report any flu-like symptoms.
CBSA says it's waiting for PHAC's direction for implementation of the new screening protocols, saying they'll begin across Canada "in the coming days."
Canadian health officials have been watching the progression of a mysterious illness in China, which state officials have now confirmed is transmissible between people.
So far, there are no confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in Canada, nor are there any confirmed cases involving Canadians overseas.
PHAC said it is tracking the spread with help from the U.S. CDC and the World Health Organization, and that the risk to Canadians is considered low.
On Monday, Canada's chief public health officer said there was no cause for alarm, even though officials were watching the "rapidly evolving" situation closely.
"It is important to take this seriously and be vigilant and be prepared, but I don't think there's any reason for us to panic or be overly concerned," said Dr. Theresa Tam.
In B.C., the health minister issued a joint statement with B.C.'s provincial health officer saying officials in the province are also closely monitoring the outbreak.
Infection control practitioners at Richmond Hospital – the closest to the airport – are ready to respond if needed, the health ministry said.
"The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has also developed a diagnostic test for the new coronavirus, which is different from the SARS outbreak when there was no similar test," the statement said.
"The centre is co-ordinating staff and supplies to ensure they are prepared to quickly and accurately detect potential cases."
Spreading from China
There have been concerns that the spread could accelerate given the surge in travel ahead of the Lunar New Year on Saturday.
A ninth Chinese citizen has died, with another 431 infected, prompting guards at the airport near the outbreak's origin in Wuhan to point electronic thermometers at travellers. Companies that carry medical face masks have sold out.
The illness has spread to other parts of China, as well as Thailand, South Korea and Japan.
Coronavirus has pneumonia-like symptoms and is zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted between animals and people.
While some infections are mild with only coughing and sneezing, severe cases include body aches, chills and shortness of breath. SARS was the most well-known coronavirus, which also began in China, in 2002.
On Tuesday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization announced he'd be convening an Emergency Committee on Wednesday on what they're calling "the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)."
On Twitter, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he wanted to determine whether it "constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and what recommendations should be made to manage the outbreak."
With files from the Associated Press