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Health officials searching for passengers after Toronto’s coronavirus patient showed symptoms on his flight



Toronto public health officials are tracking down almost 30 passengers who sat within a two-metre radius of a man who had coronavirus symptoms while travelling by plane to Toronto.

“It’s just a little under 30,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, when asked by the Star for the number of passengers her office is contacting. She added that some of those passengers are likely somewhere outside of the city.

The passengers are being contacted by phone, informed that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus, told of the health symptoms to look for, and to seek medical treatment if necessary, de Villa said in a phone interview.

The 50-year-old man presumed to be infected with the coronavirus experienced dry coughing and muscle aches while on the flight from China to Pearson airport, she said. News that he had symptoms of the illness while travelling to Toronto was revealed earlier Sunday by Canada’s chief public health officer.

“Based on the latest information, the patient had symptoms on the plane,” Dr. Theresa Tam told an Ottawa news conference, which included federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

The man arrived Wednesday on China Southern Airlines flight CZ311. He flew from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, to Guangzhou and from there directly to Toronto.

Protocols implemented at international airports in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal instruct passengers to inform border officials if they are experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, coughing and shortness of breath. But Dr. Rita Shahin, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, told the Star the infected man arrived in Toronto the day before those protocols were implemented at Pearson.

“Screening was not yet in place when that flight came in,” Shahin said. “Screening started the following day.”


Asked why the screening wasn’t in place earlier at the airport, Shahin said that’s a question best answered by federal authorities. But neither Tam or Hajdu seemed to realize protocols weren’t in place when they held their news conference Sunday morning.

Tam told reporters that airport protocols were followed when the man landed. She explained that arrival screens instruct passengers to inform border service officers if they’re sick after travelling to coronavirus affected areas. Health screening questions are also asked when using electronic customs kiosks at the three airports.

A passenger who reports symptoms after travelling to an infected area is quarantined and medically assessed, Tam said, adding she did not currently see the need for more extreme airport protocols.

“The system is working,” she said, referring to the patient’s example. “The person obviously got the information that they needed to enter the health system in a safe and responsible manner.”

But asked repeatedly if the man had reported to Pearson airport authorities that he was experiencing symptoms, Tam suggested she didn’t know, noting the information about symptoms on the plane had been newly received Sunday morning after an interview with the patient.

“This patient may have had some mild symptoms, certainly not something that would have been particularly obvious,” Tam said, adding her agency had received no report about the patient when he came through Pearson airport.

Toronto Public Health now says the protocols weren’t in place, so the patient likely didn’t know he had to tell border officials about his symptoms, or that he had been to Wuhan.

Tam said passengers who weren’t within the two-metre radius with the patient on the plane “should not be overly concerned.”

“For the rest of the plane, if you don’t get a call from public health authorities it means you were not right next to that two-metre radius,” Tam said, adding that passengers who are not contacted “should remain calm.” Two metres is about the distance that infected droplets from a cough would travel.

Tam’s deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, said it’s possible some passengers who were seated close to the patient live in provinces outside of Ontario.

In a statement Sunday, de Villa said passengers have been showing up at local hospital emergency departments without symptoms.

“While we appreciate that people may have concerns, and that people may worry about their health, we encourage people who were on this flight and who do not have signs of illness to continue with their routine activities and we ask that these people do not present to the health care system,” de Villa said.

After landing in Toronto, the infected man was taken from the airport in a private vehicle and authorities say he had little contact with anyone since his arrival outside of his immediate family. The patient called 911 the day after his arrival, was taken by ambulance to hospital Thursday, and is in stable condition.

De Villa said in an interview that only one member of the man’s family was in close contact with him. The family member has no symptoms and is doing well.

China’s health minister, Ma Xiaowei, told reporters in Beijing Sunday that an infected person can spread the coronavirus to others before experiencing symptoms. That’s different than the SARS coronavirus, which couldn’t be spread during incubation. The SARS outbreak began in China in 2002 and killed almost 800 people worldwide. The current coronavirus so far seems less dangerous than SARS. But de Villa cautioned that the virus was identified less than a month ago and the situation is “evolving.”

Hajdu stressed that “the risk is extremely low for Canadians,” noting the virus is spread only through close contact. “There is no need for Canadians to be alarmed,” she said, adding health authorities have learned much since SARS killed 44 people in Toronto.

Given global travel patterns, Tam said she expects more coronavirus cases will be “imported into Canada in the near term.” And she urged people participating in large public gatherings to take typical winter time precautions — “wash your hands, don’t cough towards someone, cough into a tissue or into your sleeve and discard the tissue properly. And stay home if you’re sick.”

The United States government is sending a charter plane to fly its consular staff out of Wuhan. Hajdu said the Canadian government is not currently planning a similar airlift for Canadians citizens there. But the government will assist Canadians who want help leaving Wuhan if they reach out to Global Affairs, she added.

The man believed to be infected was taken by ambulance to Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital Thursday with a fever and cough. Tests came back positive for coronavirus on Saturday and the man is now being treated in isolation in a “negative pressure” room at the hospital. Dr. Jerome Leis, Sunnybrook’s medical director of infection prevention and control, said Sunday the patient remains in stable condition, and will only be released when he’s no longer a contagion risk. Leis said the patient’s presence at the hospital is not affecting care being given to other patients.

Tam said she expects laboratory confirmation on the presumed coronavirus infection within 24 hours.

Toronto Public Health is investigating every place the patient may have visited and any people he came in contact with, said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, at a separate press conference on Saturday.

Health officials around the world are working to contain the coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, which as of Sunday had infected nearly 2,000 people and led to 56 deaths in China, where it originated. Despite its rapid spread, the virus had not been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization.

In central China’s Hubei province, some 51 million in 16 cities are essentially quarantined and under a travel ban.


Aside from China and Canada, cases have been reported in the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

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Ontario nursing home sees 7 coronavirus deaths, 24 staff infected – 680 News



An Ontario health unit says one nursing home has seen seven COVID-19 deaths and at least 24 staff members infected.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has said the outbreak at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon is believed to be the largest in the province.

The health unit says 10 other staff members are awaiting test results, and another person in the community has died in a case linked to the nursing home.

Ontario reported 351 new COVID-19 cases Monday, the largest single-day increase by far, which health officials attribute at least in part to clearing a backlog of pending test results.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is recommending that everyone in the province _ especially people over 70 and with compromised immune systems _ stay home except for essential reasons.

Premier Doug Ford says medical supply lines will be “seriously challenged” if there is a massive surge of people into hospitals in the next two weeks, and all options — including further shut downs — are on the table.

The new total of cases in the province is 1,706 — including 431 resolved cases and 23 deaths.

The number of resolved cases had been stuck at eight for many days, but health officials had said to expect a large jump once the data caught up to a new definition for resolved.

The increase in the number of resolved cases also means there are actually fewer active COVID-19 cases in Ontario — 1,252 — than the 1,324 that Sunday’s data had indicated.

A new reporting format from the province also shows that more than 61 per cent of all cases are in the Greater Toronto Area.

Information on how people became infected is still pending for nearly half of all cases in Ontario. About 16 per cent are attributed to community spread, 26 per cent to recent travel, and nearly 10 per cent to close contact with another confirmed case.

About 10 per cent of people in the province who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been hospitalized.

The median age of people infected is 50, with cases ranging in age from under one year old to 100 years old.

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'Nobody went out and intentionally spread this': No order broken in Caul's cluster –



The first person who had COVID-19 at a St. John’s funeral home— also known as the index case — did not spread the virus knowingly and did not violate any government orders by being there, says the province’s chief medical officer of health.

As of Monday, 111 people infected with coronavirus in Newfoundland and Labrador contracted it either directly or indirectly from Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s, between March 15 and 17. One man, 78, died Sunday as a result of the virus, linked to the funeral home.

Social media has been awash with vitriol, shaming and misinformation on the incident, with some calls for the individual to be charged, but Dr. Janice Fitzgerald called for calm.

“Nobody went out and intentionally spread this,” Fitzgerald said Sunday. “This happened at a time when we didn’t have the same measures in place that we do now.

“Taking our experience from now and trying to apply that to something that happened nearly two weeks ago is fraught with problems because where we are now is very different.”

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, N.L.’s chief medical officer of health, says the person who spread coronavirus at Caul’s was not violating any government rules in place at the time when they attended a wake. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Fitzgerald, who is Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health, said it does not appear anyone violated government rules at the time, and shaming individuals is not conducive in the fight against the ever-spreading virus.

Caul’s Funeral Home disclosed March 22 that people who had attended its LeMarchant Road business for visitation for two people between March 15 and March 17 were being contacted by public health, as a suspected infected person had visited the building. 

The provincial government had only ordered public sector employees who returned from travel outside the country to self-isolate on March 16. Also on that date, the federal government advised all Canadians returning from outside the country to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days. 

It is unclear if the individual was showing symptoms at the time, and where they were prior to the funeral service.

“That is our balance we always have to achieve,” Fitzgerald said Sunday. “We want people to come forward, we want people to feel safe to come forward.”

The self-isolation period for anyone who did attend the funeral home and has not yet been sick ends Wednesday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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‘It’s a war zone’: Coronavirus deaths at Bobcaygeon, Ont., nursing home climb to 9 – Global News



Nine residents of a long-term care home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., have died of COVID-19 complications since March 25, according to the facility’s medical director.

Dr. Michelle Snarr has called the Pinecrest Nursing Home a “war zone” since an outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease was declared on March 18. The nine deaths are presumed cases of COVID-19, she said, noting that seven of the deaths occurred over the weekend.

“It’s a war zone — more than one nurse has said that,” Snarr said Monday morning. “I feel like a field commander in a war.”

2 long-term care home residents in Bobcaygeon, Ont. die after COVID-19 outbreak

“We started off with 65. We’ve had nine die so far,” said Snarr.

“There are patients dying right now; more are going to die.”

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Snarr said she emailed families on March 21, warning them they may have to decide on sending a loved one to the hospital or placing them on a ventilator — the latter of which Snarr said would likely cause a patient to “suffer a great deal,” adding that they “may not survive.”

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“I cannot begin to imagine what the abysmal quality of life would be for a person in a nursing home — that frail — and if they survived a ventilator, the quality of life would just be abysmal,” she said.

Snarr thanked the public for the outpouring of support and said a “plea for compassion is needed” for the situation, which she describes as “beyond horrifying … heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching.”

“I can’t put it into words. It’s just devastatingly horrible. So, so, so sad,” she said.

The health unit has called the outbreak the largest in the province.

Global News has reached out to Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office numerous times for comment on this story, however the minister’s office has declined to comment, saying it would have more details Monday afternoon.

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On Monday afternoon, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit confirmed the seven COVID-19-related deaths. As of Monday, 24 staff at the nursing home have been confirmed positive for COVID. Test results are pending for 10 other staff, the health unit stated

There have also been two additional deaths at the home since March 18 that were not related to COVID-19, the health unit issued in a release.

Mary Carr, Pinecrest administrator, says residents have been isolated in the home and staff with symptoms have been sent home for self-isolation to help limit the spread of the virus.

“Our team members are dedicated professionals, trained in infection, prevention and control strategies and they will continue to focus on keeping our residents, families and team members safe,” said Carr in an email to Global News. “We actively monitor and screen our residents to determine if they are showing any of the related symptoms and take necessary precautions if they do. We also actively screen all our team members every time they enter our building, and they are encouraged to self-monitor at home and are not permitted to come to work if they are feeling unwell.”

Carr said limited visitation is only for essential visitors.

“Our residents and staff have shown incredible resilience during this difficult time and we truly appreciate the support we have received from the community,” she said.

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More to come.

COVID-19: Positive case confirmed at Peterborough long-term care facility

COVID-19: Positive case confirmed at Peterborough long-term care facility

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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