Ottawa records 1st case of coronavirus

A case of the novel coronavirus has been reported in Ottawa, according to Ontario's Ministry of Health and Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

Man in his 40s recently returned from Austria, Ottawa Public Health says

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said Wednesday Ottawa's first confirmed case of COVID-19 is related to international travel, and there is no evidence of community transmission at this time. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A case of the novel coronavirus has been reported in Ottawa, according to Ontario's Ministry of Health and Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

The man in his 40s contracted the virus while travelling in Austria, according to the ministry's website.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, the city's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said the man travelled recently and was not symptomatic during his return flight to Ottawa. He's not considered a risk to other passengers on that plane because someone with no symptoms is not likely to have a high viral load, Etches said.

The man is currently in self-isolation at home with mild symptoms after being tested at the Ottawa Hospital's General campus. 

"The individual has been conscientious about his self-isolation, and he's been accepting guidance from Ottawa Public Health," Etches said.

Etches said OPH is in the process of following up with "a small number of close contacts" of the individual, including family members and friends.

There are currently 182 confirmed cases of the virus in Austria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO declares a pandemic

News of Ottawa's first case came just hours before the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. In Ontario, there are currently 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Five more cases in the province have been "resolved," meaning the patient is no longer showing signs of infection based on two consecutive tests performed 24 hours apart.

Etches said the new case will not change the approach of public health officials, who remain focused on detecting cases that result from international travel. She said there is no evidence of community transmission at this time.

Etches urged anyone returning from international travel to self-monitor for symptoms including fever, coughing and shortness of breath, and to contact public health if they experience these symptoms.

"I would like to assure residents that as a system we are prepared to respond to this case and to continue to support our community in monitoring, detecting and containing this virus," Etches said. "I know anxiety levels can be high, and we need to help each other with seeking accurate information."

Assessment centres coming

Dr. Andrew Willmore, the medical director for emergency management at The Ottawa Hospital, said at Wednesday's  news conference that the city will be opening community assessment centres to monitor for COVID-19.

The assessment centres are a way of diverting people with questions about coronavirus from hospitals. Patients showing symptoms will be able to get tested at the assessment centres instead of going to hospital emergency rooms, as is currently required.

Willmore said the first assessment centre will open within a week. While he wouldn't disclose details on hours or location, he did say the first centre would be in a "central location," and that additional centres would open up in other areas of the city. 

"We're working very closely with public health and the city of Ottawa to essentially stage a distribution model that will allow us to have patients essentially seen across the city," Willmore said. "The areas will be accessible and they're taking into mind the needs of the city."

The continued uptick in cases in Ontario caused a number of employers to take measures to limit.