Canadian health officials say more cases of the coronavirus north of the border would not be unexpected. On Monday morning, a second presumptive case was reported: the Ontario wife of the first man diagnosed with the respiratory illness. Still, health authorities insist the risk to Canadians remains low.
Health officials had warned in the past couple of days that it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus surfaced in Canada.
The announcement of the first case, a Toronto man in his fifties, came less than a day later, on the weekend. He has not been identified, but remains in isolation at Sunnybrook Hospital in north central Toronto. Dr. Jerome Leis is with Sunnybrook.
‘The patient currently remains in stable condition," Leis said. "There’s been no change from the condition I reported yesterday.”
The man had traveled from Wuhan, China, which has been identified as the epicentre of the virus outbreak. He flew to Guangzhou and then to Toronto, arriving on Jan. 22. A day later, he is said to have experienced respiratory symptoms and immediately contacted health officials. His family is in self-quarantine at their home.
“Health officials are actively working to ensure that we identify everyone this person was in contact with in order to contain this virus," said Christine Elliott, Ontario’s health minister.
Elliott said the protocols and procedures that were put in place in Ontario for just such an incident are working.
‘The patient was detected and immediately put in isolation," she said. "Lab tests were conducted and at the earliest signs of a presumptive positive case, Toronto public health launched extensive case and contact managmenet to prevent and control further spread of the infection.”
The province said the man's wife has been in self-isolation since arriving in Toronto with her husband last week. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said she tested positive for the virus at Ontario's public health laboratory.
"We are working alongside Toronto Public Health, who has been in regular contact with the individual during their self-isolation period," Williams said in a statement. "Given the fact that she has been in self-isolation, the risk to Ontarians remains low."
The province is expected to provide an update on the situation at 11:30 a.m. on Monday.
Elliott said Ontario is far better prepared to respond to any potential health risks than in the past. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, 44 Canadians died - and most of them, including healthcare workers, were in Ontario.
Peter Donnelly, the president of Public Health Ontario, said the coronavirus is far different.
“And one of the things that’s very different is that we know what the virus is, we have a fast reliable test for it, and that really is a game changer because it means that you could very quickly find out whether people have this or not.," said Donnelly. "You can follow up with their contacts, where it’s appropriate you can test them, and these are the tools that you need in order to control this and to stop its spread."
People who sat near the Toronto patient on the plane from China are being contacted. There are enhanced measures and notices at the country’s major airports, imploring people to contact officials if they show any symptoms after visiting a part of the globe where the outbreak has been identified.
Dr. Neil Rau is an infectious disease specialist in Ontario. He said, given how the coronavirus has spread in China, it will be difficult to contain, but he adds this virus is not as severe as SARS.
“Only a small subgroup of people who get it are actually sick enough to get into hospital and of that group, only the elderly people are the ones who seem to end up dying from the disease," Rau said. "Rarely, otherwise healthy people are actually killed by the disease."
Still, health officials say it is likely there will be more cases in Canada, but they stress that the risk of contracting the virus remains low. Scientists have yet to determine just how powerful the coronavirus is.
In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that seven people have been tested for the virus. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined three cases were negative. The results for the remaining four cases are pending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.