TORONTO — Canada’s first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus has been officially confirmed, Ontario health officials said Monday as they announced the patient’s wife has also contracted the illness.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the confirmation came through earlier in the day following tests at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. A Toronto man in his mid-50s had initially tested positive at a provincial facility days after returning to Toronto from Wuhan — the virus’s epicentre in China — via Guangzhou.
Yaffe said the testing process is now being repeated for the man’s wife, believed to be the second coronavirus patient in the country.
“Her test is positive at the Ontario Public Health laboratories, and specimens are being sent to the national lab for final confirmation.”
Yaffe said the man remains at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital receiving treatment, while his wife is in “self-isolation” at home.
She said several other prospective patients have been tested in recent days, with coronavirus being eliminated in at least 15 cases. Results are still pending for 19 others, she added, noting the couple was not accompanied by anyone else on their flight home last Wednesday.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said the patients currently being tested reside throughout the province, though many are concentrated in Toronto.
Mayor John Tory said he’s requested that all public health information related to coronavirus be translated into “languages other than English or French” to ensure the city’s diverse population can stay informed.
Echoing public health officials who stress the risk of contracting coronavirus remains low, Tory urged residents to maintain business as usual.
“Be careful, be vigilant, but you don’t have to change your life at the moment,” he said.
Federal officials said on Sunday that they were reaching out to passengers who travelled on the same China Southern Airlines flight with the couple and sat within two metres of them.
Williams said that those who are not currently exhibiting the flu-like symptoms consistent with coronavirus are likely not contagious.
“If somebody does not have symptoms, they usually are not shedding,” he said, adding researchers are continually studying the virus and becoming more familiar with its characteristics.
Be careful, be vigilant, but you don’t have to change your life at the moment.Toronto Mayor John Tory
The new form of coronavirus, a close cousin to respiratory illnesses such as SARS and MERS, originated in China and has spread rapidly in recent weeks.
Officials in that country have reported the illness has killed at least 81 people and infected more than 2,700 others. Several countries throughout Asia, Europe and North America have also confirmed cases of the illness. It remains to be seen whether the virus is as dangerous as the common flu, which kills thousands every year in Canada alone.
Yaffe said all cases outside of China so far include a travel history to that country, adding that Ontario emergency dispatchers have now been instructed to ask about that issue while screening calls from those showing signs of a respiratory illness.
Health officials have stressed that while human-to-human transmission of the virus does take place, it’s most likely in cases involving close, prolonged contact with someone who is already infected.
As of last week, the World Health Organization has not designated the outbreak as an international public health emergency.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold. Others have evolved into more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS, although so far the new virus does not appear to be nearly as deadly or contagious.
This report by the Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.