The announcement of the first U.S. case of Chinese coronavirus in Washington state has officials in neighbouring British Columbia on alert.
Some 440 cases of the virus have been reported worldwide, all of them linked to the Wuhan area of China. Nine deaths have been reported by Chinese authorities, with symptoms including fever and sometimes difficulty breathing.
No cases have yet been reported in Canada.
The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Monday that enhanced screening measures would be implemented in three Canadian airports with direct flights to China, including Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
The measures include multilingual signage and messaging on arrivals screens, expected to be active in the coming week.
They also include an extra health screening question to be asked by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents to arriving travellers.
“When you come to the kiosk, there’s a direct question that asks if you’ve been in Wuhan … and anybody that asks yes to that, will be screened by a CBSA agent,” said B.C. Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“If they have any signs that are concerning at all they’ll be assessed by the quarantine officer.”
Despite the case in Washington state, CBSA said, no additional screening measures were being added to land border crossings with the U.S.
Henry said despite the fact that much remains unknown about the new coronavirus, the public shouldn’t be unduly afraid.
“I think we need to pay attention to it, but it’s not something we need to be overly concerned about. The risk is still very low,” she said.
Henry added it was not surprising the virus had arrived in North America, given modern travel patterns and volume.
Coronaviruses include a large spectrum viruses, some of which cause mild illnesses like colds, as well as more severe illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
“But what we do know from those, and there’s no reason to believe that this is any different, is that they’re spread through droplet contact,” said Henry.
“So people who are sick should cover their mouth when they cough, clean their hands, and everyone else should clean their hands regularly.”
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix issued a statement Tuesday saying the province was monitoring the situation closely and working with federal health officials.
“The BC Centre for Disease Control has also developed a diagnostic test for the new coronavirus, which is different from the SARS outbreak when there was no similar test,” said Dix.
“The centre is co-ordinating staff and supplies to ensure they are prepared to quickly and accurately detect potential cases.”
Dix said infection control practitioners are also ready to respond to any scenario where someone at the airport requires further assessment.
Henry said health officials are paying particular attention to the outbreak given the timing.
Millions of people are expected to travel both within China and in and out of the country to celebrate the Lunar New Year this weekend.
“There’s many things we don’t yet know about this virus, so we need to watch it,” said Henry.
Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the virus is asked to contact their primary health care provider, their local public health office or to call 811.
-With files from the Associated Press