Canada prepared to monitor for community spread of COVID-19: Tam

OTTAWA — Canada’s top public-health official Dr. Theresa Tam says Canada has begun to look at tracking local spread of the novel coronavirus, just as the United States confirmed a case of the virus that does not appear linked with international travel.

The risk of contracting the disease in Canada is low, but for the second day in a row Thursday the number of new cases confirmed outside China was greater than the number of new cases within the country where the illness was first detected.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director general, said the world is at a decisive point in its fight to contain the virus, which has now spread to 46 countries.

“In the past 24 hours, seven countries have reported cases for the first time,” Ghebreyesus said in a briefing, adding that “community-based transmission” — when the bug spreads within new areas, rather than being brought in by one person at a time from somewhere else — is being seen in more countries as well.

The U.S. confirmed one case of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in California Thursday that could not be linked to international travel, suggesting the person contracted the virus within the United States.

The woman, who was not identified, first sought medical care at a hospital in Vacaville, a city of more than 100,000 people about 95 kilometres from San Francisco.

She stayed there for three days but doctors did not test her for the virus because she did not meet federal testing criteria, NorthBay Healthcare Group president Aimee Brewer said in a statement. The patient was then transferred to a Sacramento hospital where she tested positive for the virus.

In a briefing Thursday, Tam said Canada has methods to monitor for possible spread of the virus within the country — systems typically used to monitor influenza — and if public-health agencies discover the spread of COVID-19 they will work quickly to try to contain it.

“I think that’s actually something that all countries should be moving toward as well,” she said.

In the meantime, while Canada is still trying to keep COVID-19 out of the country, the public health agency is taking stock of the need for personal protective equipment and other supplies to make sure there are enough to go around in case of a pandemic outbreak.

On Thursday, Ontario confirmed its first case of person-to-person transmission. The patient is the husband of a woman believed to have contracted the virus in Iran, which has seen a sudden rash of cases in the last week.

The husband was not in Iran with his wife and health officials said is marks the first time Ontario has seen a case of human-to-human transmission — the patients in all of the other cases had recently travelled to China.

British Columbia has also had a case of person-to-person transmission, also involving a man who had close contact with a woman who had recently been to Iran.

There are 13 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada, all in Ontario or B.C., and so far all have been linked to international travel or close contact with someone who has recently returned to the country.

Globally, there are 82,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,800 deaths.

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