The latest

  • Princess Cruises said on Monday that a Canadian is among an additional 65 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship under quarantine and docked in the Japanese port city of Yokohama. That brings the total Canadian cases on the ship to eight.
  • China’s central authorities called workers back to factories and offices for Monday, but there was little evidence of a return to normal in the economic powerhouse of Chongqing, correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe reports.
  • On Sunday, Canada sent a second plane to China to bring home more citizens. A planeload of 176 Canadians and Chinese nationals landed in Ontario on Friday after a journey from Wuhan, the epicentre of a deadly coronavirus outbreak. All on board will spend two weeks in quarantine at Canadian Forces Base Trenton.


  • As of Sunday, 2019-nCoV has killed 908 people, mostly in China, surpassing the death toll from SARS. Only seven cases have been reported in Canada, four in British Columbia and three in Ontario. Officials in Canada say the risk here is low.
  • One of the people killed by the new virus is Wuhan ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who first warned officials in the city about the outbreak in December. He was detained by police for spreading rumours, but weeks later when the disease made international headlines, news of his actions made him a hero to many Chinese people. His death Friday provoked outrage in China, with unprecedented and open demands for more democratic freedoms.

What does this virus do?

The new virus that emerged last December in China – officially called 2019-nCoV, but 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 2019-nCoV.

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What China is doing

China’s response to the Wuhan 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.

Where has it spread outside China?

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Where has it spread in Canada?

So far, there are only seven confirmed or presumptive cases 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 was 2019-nCoV.
  • 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.

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, many of the conditions that made SARS such a threat 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: Overall, 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 Wuhan virus and SARS spread and cause symptoms. In one family in Shenzhen, the Wuhan 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.

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This Globe and Mail article was legally licensed by AdvisorStream.

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