Doctor on front lines of SARS outbreak says Canadian hospitals prepared for coronavirus

Click to play video: 'Too early to declare coronavirus global health emergency, says WHO'
Too early to declare coronavirus global health emergency, says WHO
WATCH: More than 600 people have been infected with coronavirus around the world. The mass majority have been in China. On Thursday, the WHO declined to declare the situation a global health emergency. Shallima Maharaj explains – Jan 23, 2020

After two days of emergency committee meetings to decide whether to declare a public health emergency over a new coronavirus from China, the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that it’s too early.

The coronavirus, which emerged sometime in December 2019, has drawn comparison to the 2003 outbreak of SARS.

Dr. Michael Gardam, chief of staff at Humber River Hospital and an infection control specialist, dealt with the SARS outbreak.

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The disease affected 26 countries and infected more than 8,000 individuals, according to the WHO.

With the coronavirus, 17 years later, more than 600 people have been infected, the majority of whom are from China.

At least 17 people have died as of last count.

Gardam told Global News that at this point, the risk the coronavirus presents to Canadians is “absolutely negligible.”

“If there’s any country in the world that’s as prepared as it’s going to be, it’s this one,” he said.

Click to play video: 'A background on the coronavirus and its symptoms'
A background on the coronavirus and its symptoms

He believes that even with a WHO emergency declaration, there would be little to no impact on Canadian hospitals.

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Coronavirus cases have already been reported in China, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. There have been no confirmed cases in Canada so far.

But Gardam says if any cases are reported, hospitals in Canada will be ready.

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“Canadian hospitals learned a great deal from SARS, and then we learned more from H1N1 in 2009, and then we learned more after the Ebola scare a few years ago,” said Gardam.

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A viral respiratory illness, SARS infected more than 430 Canadians and resulted in 44 deaths in Toronto alone.

“Our experience with SARS was that it’s not great to make stuff up as you go along,” the doctor explained.

“We didn’t know what the virus was, we didn’t have a test for it. We didn’t focus on handwashing in hospitals, which is all you hear about over the last decade; we didn’t have stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We didn’t screen people for fevers.”

A number of measures, including keeping PPE on hand, have since been implemented. When asked for some preventative measures, Gardam offered handwashing and staying home from work or school if you are sick as examples.

And while many have placed their faith in face masks as a form of prevention, he cautioned there are multiple ways the coronavirus can be transmitted.

“Viruses can also infect you through your eyes, you can get it on your hand and then rub your eye and get infected that way,” he said.

“If you’ve got somebody who’s sick and coughing, wearing a mask can actually prevent you from spraying stuff on other people.

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“We use them a lot in the hospital because we’re around people who are actively infectious right now.”

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