Wash. state COVID-19 outbreak doesn't warrant travel restrictions, B.C. health officials say
Published Monday, March 2, 2020 11:40AM PST Last Updated Tuesday, March 3, 2020 12:24PM PST
VANCOUVER -- B.C. health officials don't believe the worsening COVID-19 outbreak in Washington warrants travel restrictions, but people walking or driving into the province could see increased precautions at the border.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the Canada Border Services Agency has started distributing information related to the virus, including who to contact if one should develop symptoms, in addition to their usual monitoring for illnesses.
"CBSA agents are quarantine officers and part of their role is to assess people for illness, so they are constantly monitoring, but they're now providing advice to people as well," Henry said at a news conference Monday.
The increasing COVID-19 death toll in Washington also highlights the need for everyone to take personal precautions to avoid spreading the virus, Henry added.
"Now more than ever is an important time to stay home, stay away from others if you're sick," she said. "If you have concerns about COVID-19, then call 811 and we can assess you."
Word that 18 people have tested positive for the virus in Washington and eight have died has caused some concern among British Columbians, and prompted questions about whether more screening and possibly even travel restrictions should be implemented at the borders.
But Henry said the Washington cases have been emerged in "clusters" in two counties, and that her colleagues south of the border are responding aggressively to contain the spread.
"We don't have uncontrolled spread – there's no wide numbers of people in the community who are showing up positive," Henry added. "In terms of borders, we know that closing borders or trying to close borders or restricting travel don't work."
Federal health officials have decided to implement secondary screenings for people arriving in Canada who have recently spent time in Iran, similar to the screenings already used for people coming from China's Hubei province.
Starting on Tuesday, people who have been to Iran in the last 14 days will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks. Those who are already ill could be placed in immediate quarantine, Henry said.
More cases will pop up in Washington, she added, as the state is "doing catch-up" in terms of COVID-19 testing.
British Columbia has been aggressively hunting for the virus for weeks, and has tested more than 1,000 people. Of those, just eight have been determined to be carrying the virus.
In order to keep that number low, Henry said it's critical that people continue taking precautions such as washing their hands and not touching their face. People who fall ill are also strongly urged to stay home from work, school and group gatherings, and to especially avoid visiting people at hospitals or care homes.
So far, no deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported in Canada.
According to the latest numbers from federal health officials, there have been 24 confirmed infections across the country, including eight in British Columbia. Most of the remaining cases were discovered in Ontario, while one has been found so far in Quebec.
The virus has been reported in at least 58 countries across the world.