Risk remains low for COVID-19 in the province: Quebec public health

Quebec on the heels of COVID-19
WATCH: Quebec public health officials say they are contacting people who may have been on an Air Canada flight between Montreal and Vancouver with a woman who has since been diagnosed with COVID-19. As global’s Anne Leclair reports, health officials say there is a very low risk of transmission and emphasize there are no cases in Quebec.

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.

READ MORE: Passenger on Air Canada flight to Vancouver is not a new case of COVID-19: B.C. officials

Arruda said public health authorities will be contacting passengers who were seated withing three rows of the infected person as a precautionary measure.

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“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.

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That being said, he urged travellers concerned about possible exposure to seek help with their usual health provider.

Coronavirus outbreak: WHO says ‘too early’ to call COVID-19 a pandemic
Coronavirus outbreak: WHO says ‘too early’ to call COVID-19 a pandemic

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.

READ MORE: Italy tries to contain coronavirus outbreak as neighbours fear its spread

“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.”

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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.

READ MORE: Iran says 12 killed by coronavirus, rejecting reports of higher death toll

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.


Diane Gendron and Mario Infante are taking a flight south despite fears of COVID-19. Monday, Feb. 24, 2010.
Diane Gendron and Mario Infante are taking a flight south despite fears of COVID-19. Monday, Feb. 24, 2010. Anne Leclair/Global News

She said they brought masks to wear on the plane because her husband has difficulty breathing.

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READ MORE: COVID-19: Why quarantining passengers on a cruise ship was a bad idea

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