TORONTO — Canada now has four confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, though health officials say the latest Ontario case is a mild one and there’s no evidence of heightened risk to the public.
A woman in her 20s who is a university student in London, Ont., returned to Canada from the affected area in China on Jan. 23, Ontario health officials said Friday, but she didn’t show any symptoms until the next day.
“Protocols and procedures were followed excellently, in such a way that there’s been no risk at all to Ontarians or to the health system in this process,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
Initial testing in Ontario actually showed the woman was negative for the virus, but tests at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg came back as “weakly positive,” Williams said.
“The sense is that the viral load was very low as well,” he said, referring to the amount of virus in a person’s body. “Nevertheless, to be thorough and precautionary, this one should be switched to a positive case.”
Dr. Vanessa Allen, the chief of medical microbiology for the Public Health Ontario Laboratory, explained that tests are evolving, and the Ontario lab applied two tests to the sample versus five at the national lab. All of Ontario’s other negative cases have been retested using a more sensitive test and remain negative, she said. The national lab has nearly finished retesting those samples as well, and hasn’t found any other positives, Allen said.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said a person is considered free of the virus once two tests at least 24 hours apart are negative.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario’s public health system has shown “remarkable” responsiveness to the new virus.
“As we learn more about the 2019 novel coronavirus, related tools and procedures are getting more precise and more effective,” she said in a statement. “Every Ontarian should have full confidence that these efforts by our dedicated public health professionals are keeping them safe. Because of their hard work, the risk to Ontarians remains low.”
The woman in the new case had no symptoms when she returned to Canada, but has been in self-isolation ever since and only left her home to go to hospital, where staff wore protective gear, said Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
“The patient is in home isolation,” he said. “She’s perfectly well now. She’s been well for several days.”
The woman is a student at Western University, but has not been on campus since returning to London, the school said in a statement.
Both of her parents were sick in a Wuhan hospital, Mackie said, but their illnesses were mild so they weren’t tested for the novel coronavirus.
“That’s one of the reasons she was particularly alert to the issues,” he said.
Earlier Friday, a Toronto hospital discharged a man who had Canada’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre said he is now recovering at home along with his wife, who also became ill with the virus.
“Over the course of the week, his status continued to improve to the point where he no longer required in-patient care,” the hospital said in a statement. “Sunnybrook has liaised with Toronto Public Health, who will continue to monitor the patient in his home.”
The man in his 50s travelled to Toronto from China last week and was Canada’s first case of the virus. The patient’s wife, who travelled with him, also became ill, but had less severe symptoms and has been in self-isolation at home.
Canada’s other confirmed case is a person in British Columbia, who has also been in isolation at home. That case is also linked to recent travel.
The novel coronavirus has now infected almost 10,000 people around the world and the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
As of Friday evening, China counted 11,791 confirmed cases with a death toll of 259. The vast majority have been in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the first illnesses were detected in December. No deaths have been reported outside China.
WHO has said most people who got the illness had milder cases, though 20 per cent experienced severe symptoms. Symptoms include fever and cough, and in severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.
Canadian officials have said the measures to prevent the spread of the illness in this country are working and there’s no need to change the plans.
In the United States, officials issued a two-week quarantine order for the 195 Americans evacuated earlier this week from Wuhan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2020.
— with files from The Associated Press
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press