Alberta expands coronavirus testing to travellers from 6 more places

Alberta expands coronavirus testing to travellers from 6 more places

Alberta Health Services is expanding the coronavirus testing of travellers to include six more places in addition to mainland China amid fears of a global pandemic.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said at a press conference on Wednesday that people coming from Hong Kong, Singapore, Iran, Korea, Japan and Italy will also be tested for COVID-19.

"We ask any travellers returning from these areas in addition to those returning from mainland China to monitor their symptoms for 14 days after returning."

Hinshaw adds recent travellers should self-monitor for symptoms — like a fever or cough — but do not need to self isolate unless returning from China's Hubei province.

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"We do not know what direction the outbreak will take next but we do know that we need to be prepared for a scenario where COVID-19 continues to spread in countries around the world," she said.

As well, everyone should practise good infection prevention habits, such as washing hands and covering up coughs in order to reduce chances of it spreading, she said.

However, Hinshaw adds the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Alberta still remains low, so there is no need to stay home or avoid public places.

Number of cases growing globally

The World Health Organization's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Thursday that countries with their first confirmed cases of novel coronavirus should "move swiftly" to contain the virus — noting that the concern over cases outside of China is growing as the number of people infected mounts.

Within the past 24 hours, seven countries — Brazil, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania — have reported cases for the first time, he told reporters at a daily briefing. 

For the past two days, Tedros said, the number of new cases reported in the rest of the world has exceeded the number of new cases reported in China.

"This virus does not respect borders," he said. "The point is not only to prevent cases arriving on your shores — the point is what you do when you have cases."

The outbreak — which WHO has declared a global health emergency — has "pandemic potential," Tedros said, noting that WHO is working with countries around the world to prepare.

He reiterated his message that fear is not the answer, and called for calm as countries prepare.

Tedros noted that several countries — including Belgium, Cambodia, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam — have gone two weeks without reporting a new case. He said this signalled that "aggressive, early measures can prevent transmission before the coronavirus gets a foothold."

On Thursday, China had reported 78,630 cases to WHO, with 2,747 deaths, Tedros said. Outside of China, there were 3,474 cases in 44 countries, with 54 deaths.

In Canada, Ontario reported a sixth case of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total in Canada to 13. The remaining seven cases are in British Columbia.

Thursday's case announcement comes a day after Canadian health officials said they are working on containment but are also preparing for the possibility of more cases.

Calgary's Chinatown business down

Businesses in Chinatowns across Canada have reported a drop in activity since COVID-19 hit China.

The Ho Wan Restaurant in Calgary has had a similar experience, with sales being reduced by more than half.

Most of Calgary's city councillors had lunch at a restaurant in Chinatown this week to try to help reduce fears about the new coronavirus.

Coun. Druh Farrell of Ward 7, which includes Chinatown, said council members went to the restaurant for lunch to show Calgarians it's safe to eat out.

"Chinatown is filled with family-owned restaurants and we need to support them or lose them," she said. "It is a treasured community."

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At Ho Wan Restaurant, the owners' son, Jason Zhang, says business is down about 70 per cent.

"People are not coming out very much," he said in an interview. "It was the slowest Family Day I've seen."

"It's hard to predict when people come out … but, in general, especially during the regular times, it's just a percentage shock."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says council has seen some myths and some uncertainties in relation to the coronavirus and wants to remind Calgarians that Alberta's public health system and Calgary Emergency Management System are strong if an outbreak should occur.

"Ultimately, it is very safe here in the city of Calgary. The chances of contracting anything are very, very, very low," he said. 

"We really encourage people to get out to support local businesses throughout the city, particularly at this time, to support our local Chinese-owned businesses."