People coming home after travelling outside Canada should monitor for symptoms of coronavirus for two weeks following their return, Manitoba’s chief public health officer says.
While the province isn’t testing all international travellers — only those who report symptoms to officials — Dr. Brent Roussin said the virus is evolving so quickly it made sense to take the precautionary step this week.
“We thought it prudent … to alert all international travellers [to watch] for the signs, symptoms,” Roussin said at a news conference on Thursday.
Within the past 24 hours, seven countries — Brazil, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania — have reported their first cases of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization’s director-general said Thursday.
The province previously made the self-monitoring recommendation only to passengers coming back from China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus originated.
The change was prompted, Roussin said, by “the changing transmission dynamics” and “the difficulty with continually updating everyone with a new country when it’s added.”
He said if travellers experience cold- or flu-like symptoms during the two-week self-monitoring period, they should contact Health Links for advice.
As of Thursday, Roussin said 38 tests have been completed for the virus in Manitoba. All of the tests were negative.
WATCH: How international travellers should prepare
Roussin said people coming back from Hubei are advised to isolate themselves for 14 days after leaving the Chinese province.
People who have been in contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, or people who have been exposed to the virus while working in a lab, should also self-isolate for two weeks.
Roussin said anyone planning to travel internationally should check in frequently with Health Canada’s travel advisories leading up to their trip.
City working on emergency plans
Mayor Brian Bowman said the City of Winnipeg is also monitoring the spread of the virus, and has changed scripts for 911 operators to ask callers more probing questions if they report certain symptoms.
“It’s one of the things that we’re doing to monitor and work collaboratively with provincial and federal officials,” said Bowman. “They are trying to just better understand how they can help them.”
The city is also working on emergency plans to make sure its operations continue if the illness arrives here, but Bowman said the city is still in the monitoring and planning stage.
“These are things that need to be considered, and have been considered in the past with other infectious diseases that have affected the globe.”
A spokesperson for the city said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has been using updated protocols since Jan. 10.
If patients calling 911 say they’re experiencing flu-like symptoms — such as a cough, fever, sore throat, runny nose or respiratory problems consistent with infection — paramedic crews who respond will put a mask on the patient’s face when they arrive.
Paramedics are also instructed to let hospitals know before bringing a patient in if they have had close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 within the last 14 days, been exposed to the virus in a lab, or had contact with someone experiencing flu-like symptoms who has travelled to a country where the virus has been detected.
Hospital staff will then ensure necessary isolation arrangements, and paramedic crews will disinfect their ambulances and equipment after.
Roussin said despite the number of cases of the virus increasing outside China, the risk of getting it in Manitoba remains low. Only 12 cases have been confirmed in Canada, all in Ontario and British Columbia.
He said Manitoba Health has been planning for all possible outcomes, including what would happen if there is a confirmed case of the coronavirus in the province.
WATCH: How Manitoba is preparing for COVID-19
Roussin said any confirmed case in Manitoba would likely be diagnosed at one of the province’s acute care facilities, with staff taking precautions to identify and isolate the patient quickly. He said patients would likely be treated at home — which has been the case for most of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada — and the public would be notified quickly.
Health officials are not recommending people use masks, Roussin said, which are not shown to be effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Instead, people should take the same precautions they normally would take to avoid getting the seasonal flu: stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with sick people.
Roussin also warned against spreading misinformation about the latest coronavirus, which has hit hardest in China.
“We definitely advise against any type of discrimination, against where people live or come from,” he said.
“The messaging is to be alert for symptoms.”