Could the new coronavirus in China spread to Canada?

A Chinese woman in Thailand has become the first person outside China diagnosed with a coronavirus that has affected more than 40 people in the country—raising concerns about whether the illness can be spread to other parts of the world.

Airport officials in an airport in Phuket, Thailand began using a thermoscanner on passengers coming from Wuhan, China earlier this month.

Anyone with a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius was taken to hospital.

The 61-year-old woman was one of those passengers. According to the World Health Organization, she was suffering from flu-like symptoms including fever, chills and a sore throat and was travelling with several family members in a tour group of 16 people.

While she told authorities she did visit a local fresh market, she did not go to the Huanan South China Seafood Market, which has been connected to most of the other cases of the novel coronavirus.

The woman is in quarantine and under observation in hospital.

Flight patterns between Wuhan and other parts of the world are the subject of a new study in the Journal of Travel Medicine. Public health infrastructure, disease dynamics and political factors were analyzed and used to rank various cities on an Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index (IDVI).

Dr. Isaac Boguch, one of the co-authors and an infectious diseases specialist with the University Health Network, says major cities like Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul rank high on the index.

But should Canada worry?

“People can travel from any point on the planet to any other point on the planet in about 24 hours. Certainly people can travel from Wuhan China to Canada. I think the risk is really low, but it’s certainly not zero per cent,” Boguch said.

For Canadians, concerns are likely to be heightened by experiences with the Severe Acute Respitaroy Syndrome virus (SARS) SARS, which claimed hundreds of lives around the world in 2002, including 44 in Canada. SARS also originated in China.

But Dr. Michael Gardam, Chief of Staff at Humber River Hospital, says the world is very different in 2020.

“First of all, our lab technology has become a lot more sophisticated, so we’re much better and quicker,” Gardam said. “Also, we do much more detailed surveillance so now the world’s looking for these things all over the place.”

Boguch also points to the speed and openness of Chinese health officials with the new coronavirus, saying the genome for the virus was shared with the world in a matter of days at the start of January.