In the wake of coronavirus outbreak, UVic forms response committee

Local National News

Canada institutes travel advisory and limited screening precautions

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New reports are emerging daily regarding the newly discovered coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, which broke out in Wuhan, a city in the province of Hubei, China, in December. At UVic, steps are being taken to advise students and faculty on best practices to avoid infection, and support any who believe they may have been exposed to the virus. 

“A response committee, made up of members from key areas of the university, is working to coordinate the university’s response,” said Valerie Kuehne, Vice President Academic and Provost at UVic. The university has also created an informational webpage which will be updated as needed regarding UVic’s response plans. The page currently consists of tips for staying healthy as well as resources for information.

A FAQ page was also created to answer student and faculty questions regarding the university’s action plan. The website advises students on questions such as what to do if they are sick and require academic concessions, how to conduct oneself in case of suspected infection, and what to do if a student or faculty member is learning or working in a foreign location.

The page explains that UVic is currently monitoring the situation in Greater Victoria, and is working based on the advice of public health officials.

In a mass email sent out last week, the university reminded students that “no person should be targeted in any way or subjected to descrimination resulting from a misplaced perception that they may be a carrier … based on race, ancestry, place of origin or otherwise.”

In the U.S., eight confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported as of Feb. 2, including one report of person-to-person transmission in Illinois. In Canada, three cases — two confirmed positive in Toronto and one presumptive case in Vancouver — have also been reported. 19 cases are still being investigated by the Province of Ontario. 

On Feb. 2, the total number of reported cases was 6 065. Since Dec. 31 2019, the virus has claimed 170 lives in China and infected 7 700 worldwide, as of Jan. 29. Currently, there is a fatality ratio of 2.2 per cent and medical experts tracking the virus expect the death toll to rise in coming weeks.

Reportedly, the virus has infected more citizens worldwide than were infected in China and surrounding areas during the SARS outbreak in 2002. SARS infected approximately 7 400 people throughout China, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan alone from Nov. 2002 to Jun. 2003 with a seven to 17 per cent fatality ratio. On Jan. 26, nearly a month after the first case of the virus in Wuhan, the Chinese government raised the level of response from “serious” to “emergency.”

Bonnie Henry, a provincial health officer, says she expects more cases in B.C. will emerge. Symptoms often do not show for multiple hours or in some cases days, and other passengers sharing the flight with Vancouver’s presumptive case may have been affected.

Late last week, screening precautions were implemented at Canadian airports to determine if travelers had visited Hubei. Those who have will be subjected to additional screening to determine the risk of viral infection. Beginning Jan. 27, six days after the first U.S. confirmed case of coronavirus, it was reported that Canada instituted a travel advisory and warned citizens against any non-essential travel to Wuhan and surrounding areas. 

Canadian officials maintain there is low risk to citizens. 

“Part of the challenge is in communicating in an effective way to Canadians through the media, through other measures, that the risk is low,” said Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu. “I think that is the primary message that I want to give Canadians: the risk of contracting coronavirus is low.”

In the United States, officials have confirmed that they have expanded the amount of airports which will perform enhanced screening on incoming flights. Currently, Canadian screening precautions consist of self-evaluation questionnaires for citizens who identify as experiencing symptoms, and fever monitoring on incoming flights.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises citizens to wash their hands before touching their mouths, face, or eyes, and medical practitioners say anyone who suspects they may be infected should self-quarantine for 14 days. Symptoms include runny nose, cough, headache, sore throat, and fever. There is no cure for the virus, though there are organizations working on a vaccine — all measures are preventative. 

If you suspect you may have contracted the virus, or may have been in contact with someone who has, experts say to avoid going straight to an emergency room or doctor’s office. This is a precaution to avoid spreading the illness to others. If you require medical attention, contact your practitioner in advance so they can arrange for your arrival. Doctors advise citizens to be mindful, but not to panic.