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CBSA ‘looking into circumstances’ of traveller who died of COVID-19 hours after landing in Toronto

Coronavirus outbreak: York Region announces first COVID-19-related death
WATCH: York Region's medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji announced on Sunday the region recorded its first COVID-19 related death, a Markham, Ont. woman in her 70s who returned from international travel.

Canada’s border agency is investigating how a woman infected with COVID-19 was able to fly to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport from the United States, only to die within hours.

The case, involving a 72-year-old who collapsed and died shortly after landing in Toronto on Saturday, has led to questions about airport and border screening measures.

“The Canada Border Services Agency is looking into the circumstances of this case,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office said in a statement Monday.

The minister’s office was to raise the case directly with the president of the CBSA, which has not responded to questions about the matter from Global News.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Should Canada restrict travel between provinces, territories?

Air carriers are supposed to deny boarding to anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms. Upon arriving in Canada, all travellers are supposed to be asked if they have any symptoms.

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Everyone returning to Canada is to self-isolate for 14 days.

It is unclear how the Markham, Ont. senior apparently made it through the screening measures despite being so ill that she died within hours of her flight’s end.

Her symptoms included a cough and shortness of breath, officials said. She was also experiencing muscle and joint pain, “which might have escaped detection,” said Patrick Casey, the director of communications for York Region.

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“We do not know how consistent her symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath were,” Casey said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Markham woman becomes first York Region resident to die from COVID-19, officials say

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Health officials in York region, where the woman lived, have contacted public health agencies in Toronto, Peel, and other provinces and countries to identify those who may have been exposed to her.

The woman had visited France and Tahiti before boarding a Toronto-bound plane in Los Angeles. Her family met her at the airport on Saturday and brought her to the city.

She “collapsed after a period of acute illness, and we are just talking about hours there and she passed then,” York Region’s medical officer, Dr. Karim Kurji, told reporters on Sunday.

An autopsy confirmed her death was related to COVID-19.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Markham woman becomes first York Region resident to die from COVID-19, officials say

Dr. Kurji said that “one would have assumed that her symptoms might have led to her being detected, either in terms of getting into the plane or maybe as she got off here.”

“From what I can judge, her symptoms seem to have included shortness of breath and a cough, but they may have included something further,” the York medical officer said.

But modelling studies have shown that more than 40 per cent of those infected may escape detection, Casey said.

“We have and will continue to contact those who may have come in contact with her. We have already had discussions with Public Health Ontario about this case and will continue to do so,” he added.

Coronavirus around the world: March 23, 2020
Coronavirus around the world: March 23, 2020

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday that those returning to Canada must go straight home.

“When people are coming back after international travel, it is essential that they don’t stop for groceries, that they don’t visit their friends or family on the way home, that they’re not stopping anywhere but going directly home and doing so safely. ”

Canada’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said that while many of the country’s COVID-19 cases were linked to travel, “we are seeing more cases that are not linked to travel.”

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The Conservative opposition called for more screening at airports, land borders and ports, calling them the “first line of defence” in the fight against COVID-19.

“Now more than ever, the government must provide clear answers about how these measures are being implemented,” said the party’s border security critic, Pierre Paul-Hus.

Blair’s office said enhanced screening had been in place since January and that measures had since been “ramped up” based on advice from Health Canada officials.

“The CBSA has amended its operational posture since the emergence of COVID-19 to ensure that travelers are informed and protected,” the minister’s office said in a statement.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca