Ottawa

Chinese New Year event in Ottawa cancelled as coronavirus concern spreads

Members of Ottawa's Chinese community say they're already preparing for the possibility the coronavirus may eventually spread to Canada.

Organizers cautious about crowds, people travelling

Jin Sheng Xue, president of the Chinese Community Association of Ottawa, says he chose to cancel a New Year's event on Feb. 9 out of an abundance of caution because of fears around the coronavirus. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Members of Ottawa's Chinese community say they're already preparing for the possibility the coronavirus may eventually spread to Canada — including cancelling an event that's drawn thousands of people in the past.

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a second person been diagnosed with the virus in the United States after returning from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

There have been no confirmed cases in Canada, but airports in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal which have direct flights from China have begun screening passengers.

Ottawa's closeness to Toronto and Montreal is one reason some residents worry the virus could spread from those cities to the capital.

An annual Chinese New Year's celebration set for Feb. 9 at Lansdowne Park has been cancelled because of concerns about large crowds and people coming to Ottawa from China to take part. 

Last year's event drew between 2,000 and 3,000 people.

"It's a very tough decision, but I have to make it," said Jin Sheng Xue, president of the Chinese Community Association of Ottawa.

"I want to make sure that our public, our citizens are fully protected. I don't want anybody to get the virus in Ottawa."

Xue said he still plans to hold an invite-only event on Parliament Hill because he can control how many people attend.

Talk of masks

The Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre said it has also been in discussions with health officials about what it can do.

"We do see newcomers in our office and [we've wondered] whether or not we should have face masks provided to staff working here," said Rupert Yeung, program manager for the client service department with the centre.

Rupert Yeung says the Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre has been in discussion with local health officials about how to protect against the coronavirus. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

"We haven't come to that point yet, but I think that should one case [of coronavirus] … come into Canada, I think that's the time we have to start doing something more [proactive]."

He said he's not personally concerned about the virus, but has heard of people buying protective masks to send to family in China and Hong Kong where shortages have been reported.

CBC visited a Home Depot in Barrhaven where people were searching the relatively bare store shelves in search of masks.

Neither Xue nor Yeung said they believed people in Ottawa were buying masks for themselves.

Few of the cheaper, common face masks remained at one Home Depot in Ottawa. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses causing a range of illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases — such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified as the probable cause of a series of pneumonia cases by Chinese authorities on Jan. 7.

It is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people, and there is no vaccine yet.

However, Ottawa Public Health says wearing a mask won't be of much help.

"There is no public health evidence that wearing a mask, for somebody that's not ill, will protect them against the spread of respiratory infections. It tends to give a false sense of security," said Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health for Ottawa Public Health.

She said hand washing is the best preventative measure people can take.