Ontario health officials have announced that a “presumptive” case of a new coronavirus has been discovered in Toronto, which, if confirmed, would mark the first instance of the illness in Canada.
In an evening press conference at Queen’s Park, officials said they were made aware of the case Saturday afternoon.
A man in his 50s tested positive for the new virus but secondary testing at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory will take place to confirm the case.
The man recently travelled to Wuhan, China, which is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak. The newly identified form of the virus has sickened more than 1,320 people and killed at least 41 in China, according to the World Health Organization.
The man is being treated at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital and his condition is stable, officials said.
“The patient was detected and immediately put in isolation,” said Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.
“Lab tests were conducted and at the earliest signs of a presumptive positive case, Toronto Public Health launched extensive case and contact management to prevent and control further spread of the infection.”
She added that a new website has been set up to provide information about the the illness and the government’s response.
Health officials emphasized that proper procedures were followed and federal, provincial and municipal agencies are working together to prevent the spread of the illness.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the risk to the public is low.
Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, as well as pneumonia, kidney failure or death in severe cases.
“Many people will have a very mild form of this disease,” said Peter Donnelly, president of Public Health Ontario.
“Many people in China probably don’t even know they’ve had it, haven’t sought medical care, or if they have sought medical care, have recovered quite quickly. This is fairly typical of a viral disease.”
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer, noted that the virus is not easily transmitted between individuals.
Elliott said officials are working to identify everyone with whom the victim was in contact. He is believed to have had very little external contact, and household members have been put into self-isolation, officials said.
“Ontarians can rest assured that the province’s integrated health-care system today is far more prepared to respond to any potential health risks than in the past,” Elliott said.
“We will continue to diligently monitor this issue to ensure Ontario remains prepared to identify, contain, and treat any additional cases of this virus.”
Williams said the patient arrived in Toronto on Jan. 22 after flying from Wuhan with a connection in Guangzhou, China.
He took private transportation home from the airport and did not wear a mask.
Williams said the patient fell ill the next day and had a family member call 911, at which point they told officials about his symptoms.
“A pair of ambulance services went fully protected,” Williams said.
The man was transported to Sunnybrook hospital on Jan. 23.
Toronto Mayor John Tory responded to the news of the case in a statement Saturday evening.
“While we now have one presumptive confirmed case, our health officials are clear that the risk to residents continues to remain low,” he said in part.
“Toronto Public Health is continuing to work closely with provincial and federal health colleagues to actively monitor the situation and respond as appropriate.”
The new virus was identified on Dec. 31 in China.
It comes from a large family of coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a common cold.
But in late 2002, a coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome erupted in southern China, causing a severe pneumonia that rapidly spread to other countries. SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774, including 44 Canadians. Toronto was hard hit in that outbreak.
In 2012, another coronavirus dubbed Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) began sickening people in Saudi Arabia. MERS is still prevalent, causing small numbers of infections each year. The WHO has counted nearly 2,500 cases in the Middle East and beyond, and more than 850 deaths.
SARS and MERS came from animals, and this newest virus almost certainly did, too. The first people infected visited or worked at a seafood market in Wuhan, which has gone into isolation since the outbreak.
Travel is being restricted for more than 50 million people in China as officials look to stymie the spread of the virus.
In Canada, new procedures are in place at international airports in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to help identify those who may be affected.
Canada Border Services Agency said those who have visited Wuhan will be subject to additional screening and passengers experiencing flu-like symptoms will be referred to a Public Health Agency of Canada quarantine officer. Others will receive information packages.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu echoed other officials in saying that the risk of a Canadian outbreak remains low. Anyone with flu-like symptoms who has recently travelled to affected areas of China is encouraged to contact their doctor, she said in a statement.
Outside China, 23 cases of the illness have been confirmed as of Saturday, according to the WHO. Twenty-one of those individuals had visited Wuhan.
In addition to the Canadian case, on Saturday Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases — four each — and Japan its third.
France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the U.S. identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China.
On Thursday, the WHO declined to declare the new coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, saying that would be premature.
— With files from the Canadian Press