- Japan on Thursday confirmed 12 Canadians aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship have contracted the novel coronavirus, formally called COVID-19. More than 200 of the 3,500 passengers on the ship have tested positive for the virus.
- Canada plans to spend $6.5-million on research aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 1,300 people. The Canadian commitment was announced Thursday after international health experts gathered at a World Health Organization forum in Switzerland.
- In China, officials are grappling with addressing two conflicting priorities: halting the virus and reviving the country’s economy. Despite pronouncements from leaders including President Xi Jinping, correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe found local officials have decided that business can wait.
What does this virus do?
The new virus that emerged last December in China – officially called COVID-19, previously known as 2019-nCoV, and informally dubbed the “Wuhan virus” after the city where it was found – is a coronavirus, a common type of infection among humans and animals. Corona means “crown” or “halo” in Latin, describing the viruses’ typical shape when seen under an electron microscope. The common cold is a type of coronavirus, but the Wuhan virus’s symptoms (severe coughing, fever and muscle pain) resemble the more serious and dangerous types, such as SARS and MERS.
Much is still unknown about COVID-19. Check The Globe and Mail’s guide compiling health officials’ advice for people who are travelling, sick or have questions about the virus.
What China is doing
China’s response to the virus is one of the largest-scale public health mobilizations ever seen, with tens of millions affected by quarantine measures. Here are some of the steps officials have taken.
- Cutting off Wuhan and environs: China’s government suspended travel to and from Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, and more than a dozen nearby cities in Hubei province. Even local public transit was shut down to prevent the spread of the disease.
- Extending the holidays: The initial outbreak coincided with the Lunar New Year travel season, one of the largest annual migrations of people on Earth. To slow down post-holiday travel that could spread the virus, China extended the holiday, known locally as the Spring Festival, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.
- Banning the animal trade: Given the virus’s suspected connection to a wild game and seafood market in Wuhan, the Chinese government has outlawed the sale of all wild animals in China until more is known about how the coronavirus crossed the species barrier.
The Globe in China: Nathan VanderKlippe on the outbreak
Where has it spread outside China?
Where has it spread in Canada?
So far, there are only seven confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada, four in British Columbia and three in Ontario:
- A couple who left Guangzhou on Jan. 21 and arrived in Toronto a day later. The husband, a man in his fifties, called 911 the day after his arrival and his travel history helped paramedics and hospital officials to take proper precautions. He was reported as a presumptive case of Wuhan virus on Jan. 25 and the diagnosis was confirmed by the national lab two days later; by Jan. 31, he was discharged from hospital.
- A Vancouver-area man in his forties who travels to and from China on regular work trips, and had been to Wuhan some time before B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer announced him as a presumptive case on Jan. 28.
- A London, Ont., woman in her twenties. Initially she tested negative for the virus because she had so little of it in her system, health officials said, but subsequent tests at the national lab in Winnipeg confirmed it.
- A Vancouver-area woman diagnosed on Feb. 4. She had been in contact with a man and woman who travelled in Hubei recently, both of whom were reported as infected by B.C. health officials on Feb. 6.
Before the first cases appeared, Canadian health officials had put airports and hospitals on alert for possible cases, introducing screenings at airports in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Weeks after the outbreak began, Canada also chartered planes to get Canadian citizens and their families out of the affected cities in Hubei province, quarantining them for two weeks at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario.
Coronavirus and Canadians: More reading
SARS: What’s similar, what’s different
On both sides of the Pacific, the Wuhan outbreak has brought back unpleasant memories of SARS, a coronavirus that also originated in China and killed 44 people in Canada. But while the viruses may be similar, and while COVID-19 may have killed more people over all than SARS did, many of the conditions that made SARS such a threat in this country are less serious now.
The impact of SARS: After its emergence from Guangdong province, SARS spread to 8,098 people worldwide and killed 774 people worldwide, according to the U.S. CDC’s estimates. Canada was the hardest-hit country outside of Asia: Over all, 44 people were killed in Canada, and 438 Canadians were diagnosed with probable and suspected SARS. It led to billions of dollars in economic losses as visitors avoided Toronto during what came to be known as the “Spring of Fear.”
Better preparedness: Canadian health officials learned a lot from SARS about early detection of infectious diseases, and many have expressed confidence that they are better prepared this time. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, for instance, noted before the first Canadian case appeared that officials already developed a test for the new coronavirus and had some idea of how it progressed, which they did not when SARS first arrived in 2003.
How the viruses differ: A study in the Lancet medical journal found some important differences in how the new coronavirus and SARS spread and cause symptoms. In one family in Shenzhen, the new virus produced symptoms within four days of exposure, whereas SARS’s incubation period is as long as 10 days. A shorter incubation period means that new cases of infection can be identified and quarantined sooner, reducing the spread of infection.
On the science
Other commentary and analysis
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Nathan VanderKlippe, Carly Weeks, Ivan Semeniuk, Kelly Grant, Andrea Woo, The Associated Press, Reuters and The Canadian Press