Canada is standing by in case China asks for more help as it grapples with the novel coronavirus outbreak that originated there, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday, noting that the virus continues to pose little threat in this country.
Trudeau said Canada has already responded to China’s request for medical equipment, including face masks and other protective gear, as the infection rate and death toll from the virus continues to climb.
“We are going to continue to work with them to ensure that they have the resources to contain this virus,” he told a news conference near the end of his three-day visit to Ethiopia.
“We recognize it is a difficult and uncertain time for them and for everyone around the world but as an international community we do have to continue to work together and we’re there to help.”
Most cases of the new coronavirus are mild, but the respiratory illness can be deadly in some people. More than 37,000 have been sickened worldwide and more than 800 have died, with the death toll now higher than that of the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003.
Two deaths thus far occurred in patients outside of China, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.
Seven cases of novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Canada. An update from the Public Health Agency of Canada says four cases are in British Columbia and three are in Ontario.
“The measures we have taken on as recommended by the World Health Organization and our own chief medical officer are effective until now,” Trudeau said. “We continue to monitor the situation internationally, work with our partners, particularly the WHO, to make sure that everything we’re doing is consistent with what needs to happen to keep Canadians safe.”
The virus originated in Wuhan, China’s fifth biggest city, and more than 70 per cent of the confirmed cases worldwide were diagnosed in patients in that country.
China took extraordinary measures to try to keep the virus from spreading, including quarantining entire cities such as Wuhan.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who is with Trudeau in Africa, said a second plane left Trenton, Ont., very early Sunday morning to bring home more Canadians who have asked to return from China.
The flight is headed first to Hong Kong where it will have to wait before going into Wuhan. Chinese authorities are giving foreign nations small time openings in which to land and fly out with their citizens.
“The plane would be leaving (China) on the 10th of February, bringing back the last group of Canadians who want to be repatriated on the 11th,” Champagne said.
There are 236 Canadians waiting to board the plane from a city that has been under quarantine for weeks as Chinese authorities try to contain the virus’s spread, Canadian officials said Sunday.
A first planeload of Canadians arrived at an Ontario military base last Friday, carrying 176 people, including two members of the rapid deployment team, said Champagne. A second group that travelled to Canada on a U.S. flight brought the total of repatriated Canadians to 213, he said.
Those evacuees are being kept at CFB Trenton for 14 days to make sure they don’t get sick and start spreading the germs across the country.
However, eight Canadian Forces medical staff who accompanied the evacuees from China were released from quarantine Sunday.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said in a statement that she’s assessed each member of the medical staff and concluded they are not at risk of exposure to the virus.
They did not spend time in Wuhan, followed appropriate infection prevention and control protocols — including the use of personal protective equipment — and did not have unprotected contact with the passengers who were flown to Canada, Tam said.
Of the 213 evacuees still in quarantine at CFB Trenton, Tam said none have exhibited any symptoms of the virus.
Under the Quarantine Act, Tam has the discretion to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to shorten the quarantine period based on an assessment of the risk of harm to public health.
The federal government is also monitoring the well-being of 285 Canadians quarantined on two cruise ships off the coast of Japan and Hong Kong.
There are seven Canadians with confirmed cases of the coronavirus contracted aboard one of the ships, which is docked in the port city of Yokohama, just outside Tokyo. Those patients have been taken to Japanese hospitals for treatment and monitoring.
Champagne said he’d spoken to the head of the cruise line earlier in the day.
“I wanted to make sure that we’re all linked up,” he said. “I wanted to make sure we’re all there for the families, for the people who are there.”
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press