World watches, waits to see impact of virus outbreak in China

TORONTO — Starting this week passengers arriving at airports in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto will see messaging about watching for flu-like symptoms, to monitor for the coronavirus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has indicated that with no direct flights into Canada from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and few passengers arriving via other cities from Wuhan, the risk to Canadians is low, according to reports from the CBC.

The U.S. will screen passengers arriving at JFK, SFO and LAX, the three major ports of entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile face masks are selling out and officials at airports and train stations in Wuhan are checking passengers for fevers as China seeks to control the outbreak of the new virus, one that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Wuhan is about 690 kilometres from Shanghai, 1,055 kilometres from Beijing and 923 kilometres from Hong Kong.

Earlier this week China confirmed that the new type of coronavirus can spread from human to human. Six people have died and 291 have been infected in China.

The stock prices of some companies that sell masks rose Tuesday, but markets fell in much of Asia as investors worried about the potential impact on tourism and the economy.

Concerned about a global outbreak similar to SARS, another coronavirus that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003, numerous countries have adopted screening measures for travellers from China, especially those arriving from Wuhan, the central city where the virus appears to have originated.

While many wore masks in Wuhan, streets were far from deserted and people appeared to be carrying on with their regular activities.

Initial symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.

The first cases late last month were connected to a seafood market, and transmission was thought to be occurring from animals to humans. Authorities previously had not confirmed human-to-human transmission.

In addition to 258 cases in Wuhan, more than 20 have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province in the south and Zhejiang in the east. Four cases have been confirmed overseas among Chinese travellers in South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

The coronavirus family includes those that cause the common cold, but some found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses like SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.

The possibility the virus can be transmitted between people increases the chances it could spread faster and more widely. The Chinese government has estimated people will make around 3 billion trips during the Lunar New Year travel season, but some social media users have said they may stay home due to concern about the virus.

When SARS began infecting people in southern China, the Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the epidemic, which ended up killing nearly 800 people. The cover-up was exposed by a high-ranking physician.

Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said Chinese authorities have responded much more quickly this time. For the moment, the new coronavirus appears to be far less lethal than SARS.


With files from The Associated Press

Travel Week Logo

Get travel news right to your inbox!