British Columbia

Health officials ask public to stay alert, but call risk to B.C. of coronavirus spread low

B.C. public health officials are asking people to stay alert but say the risk of a new coronavirus is low for British Columbians.

More than 1,000 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed globally, but none in Canada.

Travellers arrive in Washington on a direct flight from China wearing masks. The first of two known cases of the new coronavirus was confirmed in Washington this week. (David Ryder/Reuters)

B.C. public health officials are asking people to stay alert but say the risk of a new coronavirus is low for British Columbians.

Nevertheless, officials are committed to an intense containment effort, according to Dr. Danuta Skowronski, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's epidemiology lead on influenza and emerging respiratory pathogens.

"We know that intense efforts now to contain this virus can prevent it from establishing itself as an infection for humans forever, so it is very important to us in public health to try to contain it and stamp it out now," said Skowronski on Friday.

The so-called novel coronavirus has largely been spreading in China's Hubei province and its capital city, Wuhan. 

More than 1,287 people are confirmed to have been infected by the virus in China, with 41 fatalities.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says the risk of the new coronavirus spreading in British Columbia is low, but she's asking people to stay alert. (Harman/CBC)

Skowronski said about two thirds of the cases are in Hubei province, and 30 cases have arisen in eight countries outside China.

Health officials in France announced three new cases on Friday, marking the virus's spread to Europe. In the U.S., a second case has been confirmed in Chicago. Six countries in Asia, aside from China, have documented novel coronavirus cases.

Skowronski said the majority of cases have been spread between humans, but more needs to be understood about that transmission. 

"At the current time, the risk to British Columbians is very low, but we are screening travellers returning from affected areas for symptoms, so that we can identify cases early, contain them and prevent the possibility of further spread," she said.

The World Health Organization reported the evidence was "highly suggestive" that the source of the outbreak was a seafood market that also sells live poultry and meat from exotic animals in Wuhan.

Anyone travelling abroad should avoid contact with animals and wash their hands regularly, according to Skowronski. Upon returning, if anyone is ill, they should notify border patrol, or if symptoms develop later, call 811 or speak to a health care provider.

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