Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said there are still no cases of COVID-19 in the province.
He made the statement Monday afternoon at a press conference in Quebec City, saying the risk of contracting the illness remains low in Quebec.
He made the comments after it was revealed over the weekend that a passenger travelling on an Air Canada flight from Montreal to Vancouver on Feb. 14 tested positive for COVID-19.
B.C.’s Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) explained that the female passenger travelled to Montreal from Iran, then flew Air Canada to Vancouver.
The COVID-19 case was confirmed to have been contracted in Iran in late January.
Arruda said public health authorities will be contacting passengers who were seated withing three rows of the infected person as a precautionary measure.
“It’s been 10 days since the flight, so the people, if they were to get the illness, they would probably already have it,” he said.
Dr. Matthew Oughton, an attending physician at the Jewish General Hospital, said based on what is known of the disease, the announced measures should be sufficient.
“What we know is that the virus seems to be transmitted mostly by respiratory droplet,” he said, adding the droplets can only travel within a few feet of the infected patient.
That being said, he urged travellers concerned about possible exposure to seek help with their usual health provider.
Health professionals agreed that the best way to protect yourself and others is to practice good hygiene.
They recommend coughing into your arm and washing your hands frequently.
“We touch our faces all the time and that’s how this virus for the most part gets into you — is through your mucus membranes, your eyes, your nose, your mouth,” Oughton said.
“If I had to pick one thing for you to put in your pocket if you want to bring with you on the metro, it’s a bottle of alcohol-based hand wipes.”
Arruda said if anyone were to test positive in Quebec, an investigation would follow to find out where the patient contracted the disease.
People in close contact with the patient would be asked to self-isolate and declare any symptoms in order to limit transmission into the community.
For now, Arruda said there are no plans to change current protocol but said the situation is being monitored.
“It’s clear that the epidemic is getting to more countries in the world,” he said. “We are going to follow up to see if we need to adapt our measures to that new fact.”
Meanwhile, he said, Quebecers shouldn’t be afraid to travel.
“With the status actually I would go travelling, no problem,” he said.
But not everyone is so easily reassured.
“It’s scary because it’s everywhere. Now in Italy they closed a lot of towns; it’s scary,” said Diane Gendron, who, despite being fearful, is heading south on vacation with her husband Mario Infante.
She said they brought masks to wear on the plane because her husband has difficulty breathing.
For his part, Infante said he doesn’t want to put his life on hold.
“Sure, I’m worried, but we can’t stop living for that,” he said. “Every time we go in the hospital it’s full of germs anyway.”
— With files from Global’s Anne Leclair and Sean Boyton