No COVID-19 in Yukon but we're ready, health officials say

Yukon officials gave a briefing on the novel coronavirus Thursday morning. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory.

Territorial officials held a news briefing Thursday to update on COVID-19 preparedness

Yukon Minister of Health and Social Services Pauline Frost, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Elliott brief media on COVID-19 on Thursday. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Yukon health officials said Thursday the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is "uncharted territory," but assured Yukoners that any outbreak in the territory is "completely manageable."

They also confirmed there are still no known cases of COVID-19 in the territory.

"We've been ready for the first case for some time," said Dr. Catherine Elliott, Yukon's deputy chief medical officer of health, at the news briefing.

"In Yukon, the risk is low. We have no cases and we want to keep it that way. If we do have a case, the risk will remain low because we will do our utmost to ensure that cases and contacts are traced and isolated."

Elliott said the bigger concern is that the public doesn't overreact to a first case in Yukon. She said from a public health perspective, that would be no reason to panic.

We have no cases and we want to keep it that way.- Dr. Catherine Elliot, Yukon's deputy chief medical officer of health

"It's completely what we do with any case of infectious disease that has the same type of spread."

Elliott was joined by Chief Medical Officer of Health Brendan Hanley and Yukon Health Minister Pauline Frost. They repeatedly reassured people that Yukon was ready to manage any local outbreak, and that people should go about their day-to-day lives while also taking basic precautions against transmission.

Elliott said "scores" of people are being tested every day in Yukon. Test results typically take three to five days, as they come from a lab in Vancouver.

'This is a big deal'

The officials acknowledged public concern about the novel coronavirus — and Hanley said that concern is well-founded. 

"I had a fairly random conversation yesterday with someone who said, 'why all this fuss? Like is this really such a big deal?'" Hanley said

"And you know, this is a big deal."

Hanley compared the spread of COVID-19 to other illnesses, saying it's "somewhere between SARS and influenza."

"So, it has characteristics of SARS, but it's less severe than SARS. It's more transmissible and more contagious than SARS. If we compare it to influenza, it's more severe than influenza, actually potentially a lot more severe than influenza, but not quite as transmissible as influenza," he said.

WATCH: The full news briefing Thursday:

Hanley called the spread of COVID-19 "completely manageable."

"It's just the scale and the unpredictability of that which is presenting challenges in how we address this from a public health point of view."

In a statement on Wednesday, Elliott said the coronavirus could not be spread by someone who is not showing symptoms. At the Thursday press briefing, Hanley elaborated. 

"It's still kind of an unknown, can you have actual transmission with asymptomatic contact? The practicality is, it's not contributing significantly, as far as we've seen so far, to the spread of the epidemic."

On Wednesday, it was announced that Ranj Pillai, Yukon's minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, was being tested for COVID-19 and has self-isolated. He attended a mining conference in Toronto where another attendee had tested positive for COVID-19.

Premier Sandy Silver said this was being done "out of an abundance of caution" and urged Yukoners to remain calm. He also announced he would not be attending the First Ministers' meeting in Ottawa this week.