Toronto

Toronto Public Health says it's ready for infectious diseases like coronavirus

With the confirmation of Canada’s first case of the coronavirus in Toronto, health authorities are assuring the public the required systems are in place to keep people safe.

'A strong and experienced communicable disease surveillance program' is in place, city official says

Passengers arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Sunday wear masks. Officials say the city has the required systems in place to keep people safe. (Evan Tsuyoshi Mitsui/CBC)

With the confirmation of Canada's first case of the coronavirus in Toronto, health authorities are assuring the public the required systems are in place to keep people safe.

Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, says he has "full confidence" in the city's Medical Officer of Health and the Toronto Public Health team, and will continue to work closely with them to ensure the public remains protected and informed.

"While I understand that this news may cause some fear and concern for Torontonians, it is important to know that we have a strong and capable public health system in place for just this reason, and the risk of contracting the virus in Toronto remains low," Cressy said in a statement.

"Toronto Public Health has a strong and experienced communicable disease surveillance program. They do this work each and every day."

Public health officials announced Saturday afternoon that a man in his 50s who had travelled to Wuhan, China, became "quite ill" within a day of arriving in Toronto. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and placed in isolation.

Watch | Health officials outline how Canada is responding to the coronavirus:

'Ain't our first rodeo': How Canada is responding to coronavirus

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Health officials in Canada are using lessons learned from past outbreaks like SARS and H1N1 to control the spread of coronavirus after announcing the first presumed case in Canada. 7:10

On Sunday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer said the man, who remains hospitalized, is currently in stable condition. 

Tam said authorities are now working to help track some of his fellow passengers, but said the case demonstrates that the country's public health protocols are working. She said federal authorities, together with Toronto Public Health, are in the process of reaching out to those who were within a two-metre radius to the man to ensure they know what to do if they become ill.

"The patient has been managed with all appropriate infection and prevention control protocols, so the risk of onward spread in Canada is low," Tam said at a morning news conference in Ottawa.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, says a man diagnosed with Canada's first case of coronavirus is currently in stable condition in a Toronto hospital. (CBC)

"The TPH team is working with the affected individual and their health-care team to follow up with all known contacts who may have been exposed to the virus," Cressy said.

"TPH is co-ordinating closely with provincial and national health agencies, hospitals, airports, and community agencies."

'I am worried for me and my family'

CBC News spoke to a passenger who said he was on China Southern Airlines flight CZ311, which took off on Tuesday to Toronto from Guangzhou.

"I am worried," he wrote to CBC News on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo. "I am worried for me and my family."

The man from Toronto, who did not want to be identified because of the stigma associated with the coronavirus, said he was returning to Canada after visiting family in Guangzhou for the last few weeks. He did not visit Wuhan.

He said he hasn't exhibited any symptoms of the coronavirus.

He said he called Public Health Ontario Sunday morning after reading on social media that he might have been on the same flight as the patient.

"I didn't know what I should do," he said.

Health officials told him the risk to Canadians remains low. He was told to continue to follow the usual health precautions and to seek medical care if he starts developing symptoms.

Still, he said he's going to "self-quarantine" and will refrain from going out in public for the next two weeks.

Messages suggesting that CZ311 passengers should isolate themselves began popping up on Chinese social media on Saturday night, shortly after Ontario confirmed its first "presumptive" case of coronavirus in Toronto. The messages have since been shared thousands of times in the last 24 hours.

Residents taking precaution

Romeo Lian says he returned to Toronto from Shanghai a week ago and he was back at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Sunday to meet his wife who's also arriving from the Chinese city. Shanghai is more than 800 kilometres from Wuhan.

Lian, who was wearing a mask, says he is taking precautions to protect himself and others.

"This is a public area. If I carry the virus, I don't want to spread it to other people," Lian told CBC News.

Romeo Lian wears a mask at Toronto Pearson International Airport. He says he is taking precautions to protect himself and others. (CBC)

He also believes health authorities should reach out to everyone who was on the flight with the infected man.

"I think they should contact everybody [on] the flight. Everyone, because you know the [aircraft] has the airflow … so it's very dangerous."

Meanwhile, Mayor John Tory said the city's frontline health-care workers are the best in the world and have procedures in place to keep people safe.

"While we now have one presumptive confirmed case, our health officials are clear that the risk to residents continues to remain low," Tory said.

"Toronto Public Health is continuing to work closely with provincial and federal health colleagues to actively monitor the situation and respond as appropriate."

'Many people are very terrified' 

In Markham, 30 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Mayor Frank Scarpitti called on the federal government to implement additional and advanced screening and detection measures at Canada's airports, including Pearson International Airport.

Scarpitti said with the confirmation of a case of coronavirus in Toronto, there is "heightened concern and anxiety" in Markham, which he describes as "Canada's most diverse community."

"The current measures introduced are less stringent than at other major airports in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles that involve passengers from China being screened for symptoms," Scarpitti said in a statement.

"These screening measures as an ounce of prevention would provide greater public confidence that more is being done to reduce risk and exposure to the virus."

Markham resident Jackie Cheng said people in the community are petrified.

"In recent days, this is like an explosion in social media, I watched Facebook, mainly WeChat, there has [been a flood] of news surrounding this topic," Cheng told CBC News.

"Many people are very terrified."

What you can do to stay safe

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are some simple preventive measures you can take to protect yourself from this strain:

  • Regularly washing your hands and using alcohol-based sanitizers.
  • Covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze.
  • Utilizing face masks when in crowded areas.
  • Avoiding consumption of raw or undercooked animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs.
  • Avoiding close contact with people exhibiting symptoms such as fevers, coughs, sneezing, and difficulty breathing.
  • If you present with any of these symptoms, visiting your medical provider immediately and sharing your recent travel history with them.
  • Avoiding contact with live animals in areas where there have been cases of 2019-nCoV.

How are agencies responding

Toronto Pearson International Airport

The city's main gateway says the safety and security of passengers and employees is its top priority and they continue to work in close collaboration with health and border security agencies to ensure that all proper measures are taken for all international arriving passengers.

Toronto Paramedic Services

Toronto Paramedic Services says it continues to ensure the safety of residents and staff while managing emergency calls.

The patient at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital is being held in a negative-pressure room used to contain airborne illnesses.

The case is "presumptive positive" until the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg finds the same positive results as the tests conducted in Toronto.

Public health officials announced Saturday afternoon that a man in his 50s who had travelled to Wuhan, China, became ‘quite ill’ within a day of arriving in Toronto. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre where he’s being held in a negative-pressure room used to contain airborne illnesses. (John Sandeman/CBC)

Dr. Jerome Leis of Sunnybrook said Sunday that the presence of an infected patient at the facility has not prompted any changes in day-to-day operations, stressing the risk of general infection is low and the hospital remains safe for patients.

"We are carrying on our normal business and normal operations," Leis said. "... It is not affecting the care we provide for all of our other patients."

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp, Phillip Ling, The Canadian Press

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