British Columbia

7 new cases of coronavirus found in B.C. as top doctor calls for increased social distancing

Seven more people in B.C. have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing B.C.'s total to 46.

46 cases have now been recorded in B.C. as WHO declares pandemic

"It's not inevitable that everyone will become infected with this. It's not inevitable that our systems will be overwhelmed ... we do not have to be in that position," said Dr. Bonnie Henry. (CBC)

Seven more people in B.C. have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing B.C.'s total to 46, according to B.C.'s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who is now calling for increased social distancing.

Two of the cases are related to the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where an elderly man died of the virus earlier this week. Henry says both of the people newly infected are recovering at home.

Several new cases are associated with people recently returning from travel, with three of them related to travel to Egypt. The other travel-related cases are connected to China, Iran, India, Hong Kong and Washington state.

Henry says there are also two new community cases in the Fraser Health region.

Earlier Wednesday, the World Health Organization upgraded the outbreak to pandemic status, as the number of people infected rose to more than 118,000 in 114 countries, with 4,291 deaths.

"We've learned a lot from the countries that have been dealing with this ahead of us. The measures that have been put in place in China have bought us the time to understand more about this virus than we would have several weeks ago," she said.

Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry shares what B.C. has learned from the world response to this pandemic  

Dr. Bonnie Henry responds to the World Health Organizations declaration of a pandemic. 1:18

Despite the calls for increased social distancing measures, Henry emphasized a worst-case scenario is not inevitable.

"It's not inevitable that everyone will become infected with this. It's not inevitable that our systems will be overwhelmed ... we do not have to be in that position," she said.

With some workplaces advising employees work from home, while other continue with business as usual,  Henry also fielded a number of questions around just how many precautions people should be taking while altering their daily schedules.

She advised people to take individual risk assessments, recommending people increase their distance to others, think carefully about attending large group events, wash their hands regularly and stay away from others when they suspect they might be falling ill.

"This is not forever. This is for the coming weeks. The coming weeks where we know we have to do everything we can to prevent transmission of infection in our communities, protect those people that are more likely to have severe illness, and particularly our seniors and elders," she said.

Recoveries

Henry also listed a number of positive outcomes in B.C.'s cases.

A man in his 90s has been discharged from hospital, and a woman in her 60s, who was aboard the Grand Princess cruise has also been discharged and sent home.

The first community case, a worker from the care centre, has fully recovered.

Henry said the cases at the care centre have highlighted the fragility of  B.C.'s  long-term care systems and said there will be enhanced screening of health-care workers in care homes.

People visiting loved ones in long-term care facilities are being told to not visit if they are feeling unwell and, if they do visit, spend time with their family members but avoid group settings.

"It's really challenging because we're used to hugging, we're used to touching. Right now we need to keep our hands to ourselves … make it okay within our family groups and within our religious and social groups that we do it from a distance right now," said Henry.

"We look people in the eyes, we smile in the same way that we have before. But be aware that there are groups right now within the community that are isolating themselves because there have been people who have had this disease who have gone out without realizing it and have exposed other people."

As a number of schools and universities consider temporarily shutting their doors, and as increasing numbers of public and sporting events are cancelled, Henry declined to provide broad advice on whether events should be shut down completely.

"There's no blanket statement right now ... Virtual classes are very much an option that should be considered," she said.

"At the moment, I do not feel like there's a need for us to close schools across the province."

For more on what you need to know about COVID-19 in B.C. for March 11, click here.

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