Ontario medical officials suspect coronavirus will arrive, but say they're prepared

CORONAVIRUS

While there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Canada, Ontario medical officials believe it could happen and are assuring the public they're prepared. 

"We still haven't seen a case, my guess is we will," Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health said at Toronto City Hall Friday. "It's a matter of where and when."

"But that's part of a robust surveillance system and a team and a group that's ready to respond to that."

Around the same time the officials spoke, the second confirmed case of the virus was announced in the United States, this time in Chicago. 

China announced expanding its lockdown against the virus by building a pre-fabricated, 1,000 bed hospital, as the number of global cases increased to over 850 with all of at least 25 deaths happening in the country. 

Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said they continue to monitor the situation. 

"It is core public health work and we fully anticipate that even if a case arrives, that it is indeed business as usual," she said. 

The response the city would take would depend on the circumstances of the first confirmed case, de Villa said. 

People have continued to come forward voluntarily with symptoms and screenings and other security measures are in place at Pearson Airport, a major international travel hub. 

She said based on the context of an initial confirmation, they would assess that person, figure out their travel history, identify their movement upon return and evaluate who else they have been surrounded by. 

"So we can control the spread and the setting that that person might have been in, in order to understand, look is there a risk?" she said. 

While coronavirus is close to the deadly SARS virus that broke out in Toronto in 2003, de Villa said the circumstances between now and then are completely different. 

At the time, Public Health Ontario didn't exist and officials didn't even know what strain of flu they were dealing with, she said. 

Now the strain has been identified and lab testing can happen much faster, says Dr. Peter Donnelly with Public Health Ontario. 

"I can understand why if people look at the somewhat intimidating and scary images that they see from the particular province in China, they may think that if there was a case in Toronto or Ontario that somehow we would immediately go into a similar situation," he said. "Absolutely not." 

"Folks it will still be business as normal, the city will still be functioning normally, the province will still be functioning normally." 

As for what the general public can do, de Villa urged them to continue proper hygiene, including washing hands, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, staying home when you're sick and communication with your doctor.