As Canada’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed Monday, officials at the country’s largest airports ramped up efforts to stop any further spread of the contagion and reassure nervous passengers.
The infection touched a couple in Ontario who had travelled to Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak. The wife of the infected person has a presumptive case of infection, and has isolated herself voluntarily. Another 19 people in Canada’s largest province are being watched for possible infection.
“We understand that our employees, our passengers, and our visitors have concerns about the coronavirus and its impact said Robyn McViker, Vancouver International Airport’s Vice President of Operations and Maintenance in a video released Monday.
“We want to reassure you directly that we’re working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and all of our government partners, to implement the screening procedures that they have put in place,” she said, noting that the PHAC has said the coronavirus currently poses a low risk to Canadians.
The virus is of particular concern in Vancouver, where dozens of flights from China arrive each week.
Special measures have been put in place at Canada’s three largest airports, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. “These measures include additional signage that you’ll see in the arrivals and on the way to the arrivals hall,” said McViker.
Passengers arriving on flights from China have to declare if they have visited Wuhan within the past two weeks, the infection’s incubation period.
“Anyone who has declared that they have visited Wuhan, China within the past two weeks will automatically be referred to a CBSA border officer,” she said. “That officer will then decide if they will send that person to a PHAC quarantine officer for further assessment.”
PHAC indicates that human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, or touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
Vancouver is increasing cleaning and disinfection measures of the surfaces people touch most, such as railings and border kiosks. Staff are also cleaning washrooms more regularly and installing hand disinfectant throughout the airport, particularly the international arrivals hall.
The World Health Organization is monitoring the outbreak closely, advising countries to watch people entering the country for signs of infection, including temperatures above 38 degrees.
Under Canadian law, travellers entering the country have to declare if they might have a communicable disease. In the most extreme cases, border guards and health officers have the power to arrest, isolate, and require medical exams if they have reasonable grounds to believe a person is sick and refuses to cooperate.
While the WHO does not recommend any restrictions of international traffic based on the information currently available, the federal government is advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to Hubei province, China.