VANCOUER, B.C. — Canada recorded what’s believed to be its first COVID-19 death on Monday after a man died at a seniors care home in North Vancouver, health officials said.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the news, which occurred at Lynn Valley Care Centre. It was previously announced on the weekend that two elderly residents of the facility had been diagnosed with the virus.
Henry said the diagnoses followed an earlier diagnosis of a worker at the care home, making the cases especially concerning as examples of community transmission.
The two health officials described the situation at the care centre as an “outbreak.”
Earlier Monday, the country’s top doctor urged Canadians to avoid travelling on all cruise ships to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam had previously advised Canadians to think twice about cruises, but she toughened her warning due to what she described as a changing global situation.
“Cruise ships have passengers from around the world who may be arriving from areas with known or unknown spread of the novel coronavirus,” she told a news conference.
The update came as Canada prepares to repatriate 237 Canadians aboard a cruise ship that’s expected to dock in California later Monday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne confirmed the government has chartered a plane to fly the Canadians aboard the Grand Princess to the air force base in Trenton, Ont.
There are 21 people diagnosed with COVID-19 aboard the Grand Princess, which is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries. There’s no word on the nationalities of the patients.
Tam said passengers will be screened for symptoms before they board the plane, and those who exhibit them will stay in the U.S. for further assessment. Passengers without any symptoms will be quarantined for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada.
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However, Champagne warned Canadian travellers there is no guarantee more government flights will come to the rescue in the future.
“People will be on notice obviously of the danger associated with getting into a cruise line at this stage, and therefore we will look at cases on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
He said the circumstances involved in the repatriation of citizens from the Grand Princess are “exceptional,” in part because the American government asked for Canada’s help and the cruise line will be paying the cost.
As of Monday, there were six cases of COVID-19 in Canada believed to be linked to the previous voyage of the Grand Princess cruise ship.
That included a man in his 40s from the Edmonton area who was confirmed as a patient on Sunday. He had recently travelled to the United States, but health officials believe the source of the infection is more likely to have been a travel companion who had sailed on the Grand Princess.
A presumptive case reported in Quebec on Sunday was also likely linked to cruise travel, although officials did not specify which ship.
Meanwhile, the federal government promised a “whole-of-country” effort was underway to respond to the coronavirus, even as several provinces reported new confirmed or presumptive cases.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote the provincial and territorial leaders asking them to inform the federal government of their state of readiness and any shortages they’re facing ahead of Friday’s first ministers meeting in Ottawa. The meeting will include discussions on the potential impact of the spreading virus on the country’s health care system and its economy.
In her letter, she noted the federal government is already leading a bulk procurement of personal protective equipment.
Anxieties over the virus contributed to a new plunge in the already-volatile North American stock market, which nosedived as the price of oil collapsed and the loonie plunged against the U.S. dollar.
The rout at the start of trading triggered circuit breakers on the stock markets in Canada and the United States that temporarily put a halt to trading.
In Ontario, three new cases announced Monday brought the total in the province to 34.
One patient, a man in his 50s, recently travelled to Germany and the other two cases are a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s who were recently in Iran, health officials said.
British Columbia’s numbers rose to 32 from 27, while Alberta said it was facing three new presumptive cases, bringing the total in the province to seven.
One Alberta case has been confirmed while the others remain presumptive awaiting confirmation by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, according to Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer.
There are now more than 110,000 cases worldwide, with the largest group still in China. But massive outbreaks have developed outside the virus’s epicentre, including in South Korea, Iran and Italy.
In Canada there are more than 70 confirmed and presumptive cases, including 34 in Ontario, 32 in British Columbia, seven in Alberta and four in Quebec.
— With files from Laura Osman and Morgan Lowrie.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2020.