VANCOUVER — British Columbia has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care home in North Vancouver after health officials said two elderly residents were diagnosed with the virus.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said the new cases of the novel coronavirus follow an earlier diagnosis of a care worker at the Lynn Valley Care Centre.
The care home is now in an outbreak protocol, which restricts visitors and enhances health and safety measures.
“We know that the risk to elderly people having this disease is very concerning,” Henry said, “particularly older people with underlying chronic illnesses.”
Henry announced a total of six new cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia on Saturday.
“The last two cases really are the most concerning to us,” she told reporters, pausing at length at one point to wipe tears from her eyes.
“The message that I think is so important for British Columbians today is that you need to stay home if you’re sick,” Henry said. “We are in an extraordinary situation. We need everybody to be aware, to look after your children.”
Henry categorized the two most recent cases as community transmission, distinct from imported cases when a traveller contracts the illness abroad before returning home.
B.C. said Friday it activated a pandemics co-ordination plan to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and is prepared to escalate their response if needed.
Of the 27 people who have now tested positive for the new coronavirus, four have recovered and three are now in hospital, with one woman in her 80s in an intensive care unit, Henry said.
Meanwhile, a growing list of events are being cancelled around the world in anticipation that fewer people will be travelling to and from infected areas.
The women’s world hockey championship was slated to begin later this month in Halifax and Truro, N.S., but the tournament was cancelled on Saturday to protect the health of players and fans.
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said teams from eight countries were expected to take part, but travel arrangements were getting complicated.
“It’s scary,” Fasel said, adding that the status of other upcoming international hockey tournaments will be determined next month. The men’s world championships are set to open May 8 in Switzerland.
“For sure, we are concerned and we are monitoring this.”
Canadians planning to travel abroad are also getting hit with demoralizing cancellations.
Graham Ereaux, a singer-songwriter with the Nova Scotia-based indie folk band Devarrow, said he was stunned when he learned Friday that the South by Southwest Conference and Festival in Austin, Tex., had been cancelled to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It’s the biggest (musical festival) of its kind in the world,” said Ereaux. “It’s an emerging artist festival... A main motive for us was to go and get an American booking agent.”
Ereaux said he’s now scrambling to cancel flights, accommodations and other bookings.
Canadian health officials are also asking people to avoid cruise ship travel after a cruise ship carrying 237 Canadians reported 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The Grand Princess, which is carrying more than 3,500 passengers and crew, is being held somewhere off the coast of San Francisco. U.S officials say they plan to bring the ship to a “non-commercial port.”
Canadian health officials continue to stress that the risk posed by the novel coronavirus in this country remains low.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says most of the cases have been mild, and the patients are self isolating at home.
The message that I think is so important for British Columbians today is that you need to stay home if you’re sick.Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C. provincial health officer
About seven people are in hospital, but she said that doesn’t necessarily mean they are severely ill.
Around the country, officials are prioritizing efforts to sanitize places where people gather in close quarters, such as planes, trains, subways and stadiums.
On the international front, the number of infected people worldwide exceeded 100,000 on Friday. The World Health Organization says most of the new cases had shifted from China to other countries.
The virus was first confirmed in China’s Hubei on Jan. 7. About 90 countries have since reported infections.
The World Health Organization has warned the virus could spread at a rapid rate in countries that don’t have the capability to detect it.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2020.