VICTORIA — Three more cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in British Columbia, bringing the total of people infected to 12 in the province.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said a woman and a man in his 60s tested positive after returning from Iran, while another woman in her 30s developed symptoms in isolation.
That woman had contact with the eighth confirmed case in B.C., which also involved travel to Iran, Henry told a news conference in Victoria on Tuesday.
Henry said the most important advice she can offer is for people to wash their hands to prevent infection as COVID-19 spreads around the world.
“It’s necessary,” said Henry, adding thorough hand washing with plain soap and water works best.
She also advised people not to touch their faces, to stay home from work and school if sick, to avoid large gatherings and not to visit others, especially the elderly, when feeling ill. Employers should consider limiting travel for employees and holding as many virtual meetings as possible, she said.
It’s not too early for community leaders to start preparing for more cases worldwide. There have been confirmed novel coronavirus cases in as many as 63 countries, said Henry.
“This is affecting all of us in the global community,” Henry said. “This is an extraordinary situation globally. This is the time for kindness. We’re all in this together.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the first five cases in B.C. were linked to China, where COVID-19 originated, but the last seven are related to travel from Iran.
“This is an evolving situation,” he said.
Among the cases linked to Iran, Henry said the people did not return to Canada on the same flight and were not known to be travelling together. She said people contract the virus through close contact, which could occur at family events, dinners and religious gatherings.
Canada now has 33 cases of the new coronavirus, most of them in Ontario.
Earlier Tuesday in Vancouver, Henry announced the ninth B.C. case of COVID-19 — a man in his 50s who began to feel ill after he returned home from Iran last week to the Fraser Health region, which is near Vancouver.
He is in isolation at home and Henry said his family and close contacts are being monitored.
‘If you are sick, stay home’
Officials in B.C. are asking travellers from China and Iran to isolate themselves for 14 days when they return home to Canada as the province expanded its advice on Tuesday to help prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“We know that we all have to be aware of mild respiratory symptoms and so I’m asking all British Columbians if you are sick, stay home, stay away from others,” Henry told the news conference in Vancouver.
With March break around the corner, Henry asked people to be aware of potential issues when they travel, such as getting access to health care and what they would do if they were caught in a quarantine while travelling during this “challenging time around the world.”
Those who have trips planned should monitor the federal government’s travel advisories, she said.
In a joint statement, Henry and Dix said employers should increase the availability of supplies used for cleaning and hand hygiene and think about how they would manage absenteeism by allowing employees to work remotely or attend virtual meetings.
“Schools should be increasing cleaning and hand hygiene, educating students on respiratory etiquette, in addition to putting mechanisms in place to support students who may be away for extended periods,” the statement said.
It also said event organizers should ask anyone who is sick, returning from an affected area or has underlying health conditions that may be affected by respiratory illness to stay away.
“Gathering large numbers of people together can increase the risk of transmission,” the statement said.
Henry said people also need to have a plan ready “for the potential that we might have more transmission of this disease.”
While she advised against stockpiling supplies, she said everybody should be ready to look after themselves and people in the community.
“Do we have the medications that we need, do we have contacts with friends and others who can assist us if we need to stay home, and can we do that for others?”
More than 1,000 tests have been done and all novel coronavirus cases in B.C. have been successfully managed at home, she said, adding that no one has been severely ill.
With files from Hina Alam in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 3, 2020.