Coronavirus in Canada

Canada has confirmed 4 coronavirus cases in British Columbia and 3 cases in Ontario while 12 Canadians have been infected onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

How Is the Country Responding?

The country has taken measures to prevent transmission and spread, including identification measures for persons with symptoms. Major airports have implemented temperature screenings and other checks, including Vancouver International Airport, Montreal International Airport, and Toronto International Airport. Arrival screens at the three airports display messages asking passengers to contact a Border Services Officer if they have flu-like symptoms and have travelled to Wuhan. Airports also report more frequent cleaning of bathrooms and kiosks in arrival areas to prevent transmission. More hand sanitizer stations have been installed in arrival areas as well.

Canadian Borders Still Open for Chinese

While Australia, the U.S., and other countries have closed their borders to Chinese, the federal government rejected travel restrictions. Canada followed WHO advice not to impose travel bans as they have not proven to be effective in containing outbreaks. Previous research confirms that travel restrictions cannot prevent spread but only delay outbreaks. They also make it more difficult to track cases.

At present, the federal government is not banning Chinese citizens or travelers who have been in China. At the same time, in 2014, Canada suspended and cancelled visa applications from persons who had visited Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Travel restrictions were imposed in response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Many believe that a complete ban should be implemented as open borders pose a health threat.

The government has taken significant measures to prevent spread, including quarantining Canadians arriving on chartered flights. Visa application centres in China have been temporarily closed as well. Global Affairs Canada has advised Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China and all travel to Hubei. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer recently announced that the current measures are sufficient in light of the fact that risk remains low.

Evacuation of Canadians from Wuhan and Quarantine in Trenton, Ontario

Canada chartered two evacuation flights open to Canadian citizens and their family members. The first flight was only open to passport holders and not Chinese citizens or permanent residents. A flight chartered by Washington also arrived in Vancouver carrying 39 Canadians. Some 373 Canadians have contacted Global Affairs Canada with a request for assistance. The municipal, provincial, and federal authorities have been working in cooperation with the Canadian Red Cross and military members to evacuate Canadian citizens.

The evacuees from Wuhan have been quarantined at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario, which is located 175 km away from Toronto. At present, the base houses 215 evacuees who have been quarantined for a period of two weeks. All residents are housed in private rooms featuring standard amenities such as an ensuite bathroom, TV, microwave, fridge, and two beds. Residents are allowed to take 4 daily 1-hour walks in designated areas on the parking lots. Some people even share that the stay resembles a summer camp, and personnel is glad to help. They are allowed to socialize from a two-meter distance but all residents wear masks. In their rooms, residents watch TV, stay connected on social media platforms and messaging apps, and even hold Sunday prayers via video chat. Only family members are allowed to stay together. None of the evacuees from Wuhan has shown symptoms of the coronavirus so far. Only personnel travelling with evacuees onboard evacuation flights has been discharged on the ground that they wore protective suits and gear and did not stay in China.

New evacuees arriving at the base will be housed in Hastings Hall which offers private rooms but has shared washrooms only. The washrooms will be subject to frequent cleaning to ensure that safety measures and protocols are followed.