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Canada prepares a pandemic response plan as coronavirus cases continue to rise

Canada is preparing to respond to a possible pandemic as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise worldwide.

Public Health CEO Theresa Tam said the global threat posed by the new coronavirus, which can lead to a respiratory disease called COVID-19, is evolving rapidly. While the epidemic continues to be contained mainly in the epicenter of Hubei, China, he has noted that the virus is now spreading at the community level, from person to person, in several other countries.

Canadian public health chief Theresa Tam says it is too early to know the trajectory of the spread of the new coronavirus. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

“These signs are worrying and mean that the containment window of opportunity … to stop the global spread of the virus, is closing,” Tam told reporters on a conference call Monday.

“It also says to countries like Canada, which have so far been able to handle and detect cases, that we must prepare ourselves between governments, communities and individuals and families, in case of a more widespread transmission in our community.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic a public health emergency of international concern, but so far it has not declared it a pandemic.

Tam said the coronavirus trajectory is unknown at this time and it is possible that cases have occurred in other countries that do not have the proper tools to diagnose and contain it.

Canada developed a pandemic response plan in 2009, which would serve as a basis for any change in the official response to the current epidemic, he said.

The response plan includes accelerating research work here and contributing to international efforts to develop a vaccine abroad. Tam said it could also lead to expanding laboratory testing capabilities and accessing diagnostic tools and taking stock of essential supplies to make sure the authorities are not missing. He added that Canada’s way of acting would be more or less the same, regardless of whether the WHO declares a pandemic or not.

Containment efforts

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Monday that a WHO pandemic declaration would make travel restrictions insignificant because it would mean that efforts to contain the virus have failed.

“As the window closes in terms of stopping global spread, as we watch WHO assess whether this is a complete pandemic, of course our focus is more on our internal preparedness and what Canada can do to make sure that our system and structures are ready for a change in our population, “he said.

WHO said today that China has reported 77,362 COVID-19 cases, including 2,618 deaths.

Outside China, there are now 2,074 cases in 28 countries, including 10 in Canada and 23 related deaths.

Despite the growing number, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said officials are encouraged that the number of new cases continues to decline in China.

Despite concerns about the spread of coronavirus in places like Iran, South Korea and Italy, the WHO says it is not yet a pandemic. 04:09

The epidemic peaked between January 23 and February 2 and has been steadily decreasing since then, he said.

Tedros said that the decision whether to declare a pandemic is based on an ongoing evaluation of the geographic spread of the virus, the severity of the disease and its impact on society.

“For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing serious disease or death on a large scale,” he said.

Pandemic potential

“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely yes. Are we still there? From our evaluation, not yet.”

Tedros said that labeling a pandemic outbreak could create unnecessary fears.

Tam said the goal is now to slow the spread of the virus, adding that it is difficult to stop it spreading because more countries are reporting people with absent or mild symptoms.

Canada has so far been successful in detecting imported cases and preventing person-to-person spread within communities, but is preparing for other scenarios, Tam said.

Tam said that enhanced border control measures and airport messaging will be expanded to include notices to travelers returning from other countries with reported coronavirus cases.

He said that international travelers arriving at Canadian airports will be told to isolate themselves if they exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Tam said that all travelers should take general precautions and plan ahead, for example, making sure they have enough medications for a trip.

He repeated normal public health messages that encourage people to wash their hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, track federal travel health tips posted online, and share travel history with health care workers in case of illness .

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