Politics

Risk of new coronavirus to Canadians low, health minister says

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says several people in Canada are under observation for signs they may have contracted a coronavirus from China, but that the risk to Canadians remains low.

'I think it's important that we're not alarmist, but that we're cautious and we're prudent': health minister

People wear face masks as they wait at Hankou Railway Station on Wednesday in Wuhan, China. A new infectious coronavirus known as "2019-nCoV" was discovered in Wuhan last week. (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images)

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says several people in Canada are under observation for signs they may have contracted a coronavirus from China, but that the risk to Canadians remains low.

Hajdu said five or six people are being monitored in Canada, including at least one in Vancouver and another Quebec.

She said one person was cleared of having the virus, but health officials are monitoring the others.

"At this point, there has not been a positive case in Canada," Hajdu told reporters ahead of a meeting of Liberal MPs on Parliament Hill on Thursday. "The risk is low to Canadians."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Thursday in Ottawa that his government is taking the outbreak "very seriously."

"Our health minister is engaged with her partners at the provincial level and we're working with international partners as well to ensure that we have the best response possible," Trudeau said.  

"We're, of course, looking at any extra measures that need to be taken to keep Canadians safe and to prevent the spread of this virus."

Meanwhile, the head of Quebec's public health authority said in fact five people in that province are currently under surveillance for possible exposure.

The five, from the Montreal and Quebec City areas, had travelled to China "and have a history that could be compatible with the fact they could have been exposed," Horacio Arruda said.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said Canada's three major airports have updated the messages on flight information displays to remind travellers to inform border officers if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

People who have been to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, will leave the airports with information in English, French and Chinese on what to do if they do experience symptoms in the next 14 days, Tam said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters during a break in his party's caucus meeting on Thursday 0:20

At least 17 people have died in China. Wuhan is under quarantine as health officials scramble to understand the mysterious disease and keep it from spreading.

The World Health Organization is contemplating whether to declare a global health emergency because of the disease, which has infected at least 500 people in China, with cases popping up in other countries as well.

Hajdu said the federal government is working with international partners to identify the disease and determine next steps.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says it is important to avoid being alarmist about the coronavirus outbreak. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

People flying into Canada from overseas are being encouraged to self-report if they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms.

Hajdu said it is too early to determine what additional measures may be required.

"I think it's important that we're not alarmist, but that we're cautious and we're prudent, and that's exactly what Canada is doing," Hajdu said.

With files from the CBC's Sarah Sears and Peter Zimonjic

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