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Medical staff transfer patients to Jin Yintan hospital on Jan. 17, 2020, in Wuhan, China. B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer said she has 'no doubt' there will be cases in Canada.

Wang He/Getty Images

Canadian hospitals and airports are putting in place enhanced infection-control measures as they prepare for the possible arrival of a SARS-like virus that China confirmed Monday can be transmitted between humans.

Chinese health officials say the novel coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV, has sickened 291 people and killed six people. Infection control experts say they expect to see some cases of the virus in Canada, because of the number of travellers between the two countries.

Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer, said she has “no doubt” there will be cases in Canada. But unlike 2003, when SARS arrived in Toronto and officials had no idea what they were dealing with, the situation is much different this time, Dr. Henry said. For instance, officials have already developed a test for the new virus, are aware of the symptoms and have some idea of how the illness progresses. And the 2019-nCoV virus doesn’t appear to be as deadly as SARS was, Dr. Henry said.

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During the SARS outbreak, more than 8,000 people were infected and hundreds died as a result of the illness, according to the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the growing outbreak constitutes a public health emergency and what needs to be done to manage the risk.

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Theresa Tam said Monday the government is increasing signage at airports in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal that ask travellers from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, to tell border services agents if they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms. The government will also add a new health screening question to electronic kiosks in the coming weeks.

There have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Canada. Health officials in Ontario investigated three possible cases in people who recently travelled to Wuhan, but ruled out the illness.

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Provinces are working with hospitals to alert health-care workers about what signs to look for and to prepare new infection-control measures, such as emergency-room signage, isolation areas and how to collect samples from patients with possible infections.

Complicating matters is the fact Canada is in midst of a busy influenza season, meaning emergency rooms are filled with people experiencing symptoms that are similar to those of the novel coronavirus, including cough, fever and shortness of breath.

Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said the response to the outbreak could be improved if Chinese officials were more transparent with the total number of cases and other clinical data.

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Other key questions that need to be answered include how easily the virus spreads from person to person, what causes it and the proportion of patients who develop severe versus mild symptoms.

Dr. Tam said Canadian officials are working to confirm reports from China that the illness has spread to some health-care workers there, which would signal human-to-human transmission. Chinese state media reported that some health workers in Wuhan, and family members who had not travelled to the city, were infected with the virus. Such an evolution of the virus had been feared by epidemiologists and has intensified concerns that the virus has begun to spread more rapidly just days ahead of the Lunar New Year celebration – China’s busiest travel season.

China has reported 224 cases, with 217 of those confirmed in Wuhan, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, the economically vital southern city that borders Hong Kong. Another seven are suspected in a growing circle of provinces that now includes Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanghai, Guangxi and Shandong.

China counts sharp rise

in coronavirus cases

China has reported a sharp rise in the number of

people infected with a new coronavirus, includ-

ing the first cases in the capital, as millions begin

travelling ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday,

which begins on Jan. 24.

KNOWN CORONAVIRUS CASES

(as of 12 p.m. ET Jan. 20)

Beijing: 5

South Korea: 1

CHINA

CHINA

Shanghai: 1

Japan: 1

Wuhan: 198

(including 3 deaths)

Guangdong

province: 14

Thailand: 2

CORONAVIRUS (2019-nCoV)

Belongs to large family of viruses that cause illnesses

ranging from common cold to more severe diseases

such as MERS and SARS*

New strain not previously identified in humans

Origin suggests animal-to-human transmission, but

some human-to-human transmission has occurred

Signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever,

cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties

People advised to avoid“unprotected” contact with

live animals, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and

avoid close contact with anyone with cold or

flu-like symptoms

Electron microscopic image of Middle East

respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

*Severe acute respiratory syndrome

graphic news, Sources: Associated Press,

BBC Picture: CDC

China counts sharp rise

in coronavirus cases

China has reported a sharp rise in the number of people

infected with a new coronavirus, including the first cases

in the capital, as millions begin travelling ahead of the

Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Jan. 24.

KNOWN CORONAVIRUS CASES (as of 12 p.m. ET Jan. 20)

Beijing: 5

South Korea: 1

CHINA

CHINA

Japan: 1

Shanghai: 1

Wuhan: 198

(including 3 deaths)

Guangdong

province: 14

Thailand: 2

CORONAVIRUS (2019-nCoV)

Belongs to large family of viruses that cause illnesses

ranging from common cold to more severe diseases

such as MERS and SARS*

New strain not previously identified in humans

Origin suggests animal-to-human transmission, but

some human-to-human transmission has occurred

Signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever,

cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties

People advised to avoid“unprotected” contact with

live animals, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and avoid

close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms

Electron microscopic image of Middle East

respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

*Severe acute respiratory syndrome

graphic news, Sources: Associated Press,

BBC Picture: CDC

China counts sharp rise in coronavirus cases

China has reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new

coronavirus, including the first cases in the capital, as millions begin travelling

ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Jan. 24.

KNOWN CORONAVIRUS CASES

(as of 12 p.m. ET Jan. 20)

South Korea: 1

Beijing: 5

CHINA

CHINA

Shanghai: 1

Japan: 1

Wuhan: 198

(including 3 deaths)

CORONAVIRUS (2019-nCoV)

Belongs to large family of

viruses that cause illnesses

ranging from common cold

to more severe diseases

such as MERS and SARS*

Guangdong

province: 14

Thailand: 2

New strain not previously

identified in humans

Origin suggests animal-to-

human transmission, but

some human-to-human

transmission has occurred

Signs of infection include

respiratory symptoms, fever,

cough, shortness of breath

and breathing difficulties

People advised to avoid

“unprotected” contact with

live animals, thoroughly cook

meat and eggs, and avoid

close contact with anyone

with cold or flu-like

symptoms

Electron microscopic image of Middle East

respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

*Severe acute respiratory syndrome

graphic news, Sources: Associated Press, BBC Picture: CDC

Zhong Nanshan, who leads a team of experts organized by China’s National Health Commission, sought to assuage fears about the virus. “We identified the new coronavirus just two weeks after the outbreak was reported and we have very good virus-monitoring and quarantine measures,” he said. “I believe the outbreak will not cause the same impact on society and the economy as SARS did 17 years ago.”

And the collision of an urgent public health situation with holiday travel has worried experts and travellers alike.

Lunar New Year is “supposed to be a happy occasion," said Asok Kurup, an infectious-diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore who has worked on the response to previous pandemics, including SARS and H1N1. "But we are absolutely frightened about the whole scenario. We are bracing ourselves for the millions of people who will be moving all over the continent in the next few weeks to only worsen the problem.”

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In South Korea, authorities raised their alert level Monday and ordered additional monitoring by local governments after placing into isolation a woman who arrived Sunday with a fever and respiratory problems. The woman had travelled from Wuhan and tested positive for the new virus. Airports in the United States, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have increased screening of passengers from Wuhan.

At Wuhan’s international airport, authorities have conducted temperature checks of outbound passengers. Local rail stations have also been ordered to do the same. The virus first emerged at the Wuhan South China Seafood City market, which was closed at the beginning of the year.

Ivan Hung, chief of the infectious-diseases division at the University of Hong Kong, held out hope about containing the virus, particularly since the information disclosed by China has allowed other countries to develop rapid testing.

Still, he recommended more careful screening for those travelling to foreign countries from anywhere in China, not just from Wuhan. Dr. Kurup said such passengers should be screened for respiratory conditions, not just fevers.

Those travelling to Wuhan, meanwhile, said they were hoping the uncertainty would not dampen their holidays.

“My family is in Wuhan and they reminded me to wear a mask when I’m going home – but they showed no signs of panic,” said Xu Can, 36.

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Patricia Shen, 25, wasn’t so sure. A part-time kindergarten teacher who works in Paris, she was boarding a train home to Wuhan, where her mother and aunt work in a hospital. They “told me the situation is worse than some of the early news reports,” Ms. Shen said. “Wuhan is such an important crossroads for transportation, and so many cases have appeared, so you can imagine how many are still unknown.”

With reports from Alexandra Li

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