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Coronavirus risk remains low in Canada despite first presumptive case: health officials

Details emerge about Toronto patient believed to have coronavirus
WATCH: Details emerge about Toronto patient believed to have the new coronavirus

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story erroneously identified the airline as Southern China Airline. The airline is, in fact, called China Southern Airlines.

Canada‘s federal government says the first reported presumptive case of coronavirus in Toronto was “not unexpected” and that additional cases could occur in the near future.

However, at a press conference Sunday morning, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that despite the presumptive case, the risk to Canadians remains low.

She said person-to-person spread has been reported in close contact only.

“Any imported cases we will be rapidly preventing any further spread from that case,” she said.

Canadians should take regular precautions to protect themselves against respiratory illnesses, she added.

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Coronavirus outbreak: spread of virus to Canada ‘not unexpected’
Coronavirus outbreak: spread of virus to Canada ‘not unexpected’

READ MORE: Canada’s 1st ‘presumptive’ case of new coronavirus discovered in Toronto

A day earlier, Ontario Health officials announced that a man in his 50s had been diagnosed with a “presumptive” case of the new coronavirus in Toronto.

According to officials, the man had recently travelled to Wuhan, China, which is believed to be the epicentre of the virus’ outbreak.

Officials are now awaiting testing from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory to confirm the man’s case.

Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian Health minister says government working ‘rapidly’ to limit spread of virus
Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian Health minister says government working ‘rapidly’ to limit spread of virus

According to Tam, the man reported to local health officials that he was experiencing flu-like symptoms while on the plane.

She said the man was on board China Southern Airlines Flight CZ311 from Guangzhou to Toronto and that plane contact-tracing is now underway.

“I think the right approach out of all precautions is to inform passengers that were in close proximity of that patient,” she said.

She said officials will now be working “very rapidly” to do so.

Tam said the man has been managed with all the “appropriate protocols” by health-care professionals.

He is now being treated at Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital, where he remains in stable condition.

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READ MORE: Officials interviewing all those in contact with Canada’s 1st coronavirus patient

According to Tam, the country’s health system is “on alert” and has been working collaboratively with both its provincial and international partners.

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She said there is a “significant and unprecedented effort” underway to contain the virus and reminded travellers to always take precautions against respiratory viruses while travelling.

Canada’s health minister, Patty Hajdu, echoed Tam’s remarks, saying Canada has had more than 17 years since the outbreak of coronavirus strain SARS, which has allowed Canada to develop a “collaborative” and “responsive” system to handle the outbreak.

Coronavirus outbreak: First Canadian coronavirus patient allegedly didn’t report symptoms upon arrival from China
Coronavirus outbreak: First Canadian coronavirus patient allegedly didn’t report symptoms upon arrival from China

The virus, a new strain of coronavirus, has created alarm, though, because much about it is still unknown, including how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.

It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

By Sunday morning, Chinese officials confirmed 56 people had died as a result of the virus and a total of 1,975 infections were reported.

Outside of China, Thailand has reported eight infection cases; Taiwan, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia have each reported four; the United States, France and Japan have each reported three cases; Vietnam and South Korea have two apiece and Canada and Nepal have each reported one case of the virus.

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No deaths related to coronavirus have been reported outside of China.

Unpacking the potentially deadly coronavirus and possible protections
Unpacking the potentially deadly coronavirus and possible protections

In late 2002, a different coronavirus strain named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) 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 by the outbreak.

Canadian woman among the millions trapped in Wuhan, China
Canadian woman among the millions trapped in Wuhan, China

On Sunday, China’s health minister said the country was entering a “crucial state,” saying it seemed like the “ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger.”

“According to recent clinical information, the virus’ ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma Xiaowei told reporters.

Chinese officials say the virus is mutating and can be transmitted through human contact.

Ma told reporters that the incubation period for the virus can range up to 14 days, during which infection can occur.

Coronavirus outbreak: Passengers in 2-metre radius from Canadian coronavirus patient, fellow travellers to be contacted by Canadian health agency
Coronavirus outbreak: Passengers in 2-metre radius from Canadian coronavirus patient, fellow travellers to be contacted by Canadian health agency

Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

On Saturday, China’s President Xi Jinping called the situation “grave” and said the government was stepping up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to the city at the centre of the crisis, Wuhan, which remains on lockdown with no flights, trains or buses in or out.

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It is now believed the previously unknown strain of coronavirus emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the city.

As a result, Chinese officials have imposed a temporary ban on the trade of wildlife nationwide in markets, supermarkets, restaurants and e-commerce platforms.

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about Canada’s first ‘presumptive’ coronavirus case

The U.S. Consulate announced on Sunday it would be evacuating personnel and some private citizens from Wuhan aboard a charter flight on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Hajdu said Canadians in Wuhan in need of assistance should reach out to the federal government for help but that “it doesn’t appear” that Canada has the need to charter a plane at this time.

Coronavirus outbreak: No plans for Canadian government to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, China on flight
Coronavirus outbreak: No plans for Canadian government to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, China on flight

In a statement released Sunday, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government is in contact with and is providing assistance to Canadians on the ground in China’s Hubei province.

“We understand the concerns of Canadians in the region and those of their families and loved ones,” he said.

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Champagne said Canadian consular officials are “closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with local authorities and our international partners to gather more information and provide support to the extent possible.”

He said Canada does not have a consular presence in Wuhan.

Meanwhile, Canada’s federal government has increased measures at airports in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal in hopes of preventing the spread of the virus.

Officials have also urged Canadians to practice good hygiene in order to limit the transmissions of all viruses. Health authorities are reminding Canadians to wash their hands thoroughly, cover their sneezes and coughs. They say anyone who is sick should stay home.

— With files from Global News’ Kerri Breen, Ryan Rocca, the Canadian Press and Reuters