Canada to bolster screening of central China passengers for virus at 3 airports

OTTAWA — Canada plans to take measures at some major airports in the coming week to identify people travelling from Wuhan in central China who may have flu-like symptoms.

The change comes as U.S. officials say three American airports will screen passengers arriving from central China for a new virus that has sickened dozens, killed two and prompted worries about an international outbreak.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they will begin taking temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers at New York City’s Kennedy airport and the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says additional measures will include messaging on arrivals screens at the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver international airports reminding travellers from Wuhan to inform a border service officer if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

There will also be an additional health screening question added to electronic kiosks.

The agency notes the overall risk to Canadians is low, there are no direct flights from Wuhan to Canada and the volume of travellers arriving indirectly from the city is low.

“We will continue to work with federal, provincial and territorial partners and public health authorities to enhance Canada’s preparedness to rapidly identify, treat and prevent the spread of this emerging disease should it present in Canada,” Tammy Jarbeau, a Health Canada media adviser said Friday in an email.

“Entry screening alone is not a guarantee against the possible importation of this new virus but is an important public health tool during periods of uncertainty and part of a multilayered government response strategy.”

Doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia — fever, cough, difficulty breathing — in people who worked at or visited a food market in the suburbs of Wuhan late last month.

More than 40 cases of the newly identified coronavirus have been confirmed in Asia, including two deaths, although at least one involved a previous medical condition. Officials have said it probably spread from animals to people but haven’t been able to rule out the possibility that it spreads from person to person.

So far, the risk to the American public is deemed to be low, but the CDC wants to be prepared and is taking precautions, the center’s Dr. Martin Cetron said.

“The earlier we detect a case, the better we can protect the public, and the more we can understand about this virus and its risk for spread,” he said.

At least a half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China.

The list includes Thailand and Japan, which both have reported cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan. Travel is unusually heavy right now as people take trips to and from China to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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