Health

What you need to know now about coronavirus: WHO gives illness a new name as death toll rises

Stay up to date on the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for Canadians.

Stay up to date on the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for Canadians

Information about the coronavirus outbreak is spreading fast, but what do we actually know about the illness? CBC News medical contributor and family physician Dr. Peter Lin breaks down the facts about what it is, where it came from, how it spreads and what you can do to protect yourself. 5:10

The latest:

  • Death toll in mainland China tops 1,113, with case numbers of 44,653, National Health Commission reports.
  • WHO gives the illness caused by the virus a new name: COVID-19.
  • 188 more Canadians and family members repatriated from Hubei province settle in at CFB Trenton.
  • Among Canadians at home, 4 cases in B.C., 3 in Ontario. Risk to people in Canada low, public health officials say.

The illness caused by the coronavirus that has triggered an international outbreak and killed more than 1,100 people has been given a new name.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday its group of virologists in charge of naming infectious diseases has dubbed the illness caused by the virus COVID-19. The short form stands for coronavirus disease, and the number 19 refers to the year of its origin — 2019.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it had to find a name that did not create stigma by referring to a geographical location, an animal or group of people.

The organization reported on Tuesday that 1,017 people had died from the illness in China, while there were 42,708 cases. On Wednesday, China's National Health Commission provided new figures, saying the death toll on mainland China had risen to 1,113, with case numbers at 44,653.

Health workers in protective gear evacuate a public housing building outside Hong Mei House at Cheung Hong Estate in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Canada has seven confirmed cases of the illness, four in British Columbia and three in Ontario.

In Ontario, the chief medical officer of health said a patient in London had tested negative for the coronavirus twice in 24 hours, and is no longer considered to be infectious. The patient had been the third and most recent confirmed case in the province.

The other two confirmed patients in the province are no longer in hospital.

For context, influenza claims between 290,000 to 650,000 lives annually, and three to five million people experience severe cases of the illness.

Asked about recent cases where the disease incubation period was reported to be up to 24 days, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, said the longest is usually 14 days, but there are "outliers." 

More quarantined at CFB Trenton

A second Canadian plane carrying evacuees from the quarantined region of China's Hubei province landed Tuesday morning at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in southern Ontario.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the plane landed with 130 Canadians and 58 accompanying family members.

Officials say all the passengers were screened and have exhibited no symptoms of the virus.

They'll be placed under quarantine at CFB Trenton with the 213 Canadians and family members who arrived from Wuhan last week.

The flight crew has been examined, and Canada's chief public health officer decided all 25 of them can be safely released from quarantine because they did not spend time in the centre of the outbreak and they followed appropriate infection prevention and control protocols.

The risk to Canadians — including people living and working near the base where repatriated Canadians are living under quarantine — is low, Tam said on Twitter.

This latest flight was the last one planned to carry Canadians out of the part of China where the virus was first detected.

The government continues to encourage any Canadians in China whose presence there is non-essential to consider leaving the country while commercial flights are available.

Peak likely still ahead, expert says

A hospital in Nanjing City, China is using robots to help fight the coronavirus and ease the burden on burned-out medical staff. 0:49

Zhong Nanshan, China's foremost medical adviser on the outbreak who played a key role in combating an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, said Tuesday he expected the outbreak to peak later this month.

"I hope this outbreak, or this event, may be over in something like April," he said.

But in a meeting with reporters, WHO officials warned against complacency about the outbreak.

The world must "wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy No. 1," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. 

He said the first vaccine is 18 months away.

 "A virus can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action."

Canadian expert arrives in China to lead investigation

Passengers step off a plane carrying Canadians back from the Wuhan area in China, after it arrived at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ont., on Tuesday. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, renowned Canadian epidemiologist Bruce Aylward made his way to China to lead a team of WHO experts to study the origin of the virus and its severity.

Aylward previously led reforms of WHO's emergency preparedness program.

Canada has agreed to provide $2 million to the World Health Organization to help vulnerable countries prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak beyond China.

Additionally, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has put out a call for proposals to scientists interested in launching quick studies of the coronavirus if it breaks out here in Canada.

Businesses brace for full impact

WATCH: Robots being used in hospital in China to help fight coronavirus.

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed a woman who wasn't showing symptoms triggered a chain of coronavirus infections. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains how the report got it wrong. 3:25

High-tech companies in Canada and around the world, for example, are eyeing their supply chains as experts warn the repercussions of the outbreak for Chinese manufacturing plants are starting to be felt.

The quarantine in Hubei province has created a cloud of uncertainty over the country's manufacturing sector, which supplies goods the world over.

The outbreak struck during the Lunar New Year, a time when factories ordinarily close for the holiday, but many have yet to reopen.

Even the NHL could feel an impact. Custom hockey sticks used by about three-quarters of NHLers are made only at two factories located in the part of China most affected by the disease.  

Compounding the overall problem is ongoing travel restrictions that are keeping employees from getting to work in plants in China and surrounding countries.

Chinese president visits community health centre

Chinese President Xi Jinping, head of the ruling Communist Party, made a rare public appearance that aired on state television Tuesday. He was shown wearing a surgical mask and having his temperature taken before expressing his thanks to health workers on behalf of the party and government.

"We will most definitely win this people's war," he said.

Xi has come under some criticism for his handling of the outbreak, particularly the failure of local officials in the worst-hit city of Wuhan to clarify the extent of the crisis.

Public anger has been inflamed over the death of a young doctor from the virus who had earlier been threatened by police, along with seven others, for warning online of the potential for a major outbreak as early as December.

WATCH | Can the virus be spread by people with no symptoms?

Respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta explains how the coronavirus is spread, and why you should not wear a mask. 7:38

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC's Pete Evans