By Monique Conrod
Health officials in China and around the world are working hard to prevent a new virus from making more people sick.
A statement from the government of Canada says that, “The overall risk of the novel coronavirus to Canadian travellers and to Canada remains low.”
The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, at the end of December. Health officials think the virus spread to people from birds or animals.
The Chinese government is taking steps to keep people who are infected with the virus to a limited area of the country.
Symptoms of the new virus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In rare instances, the virus can cause more serious symptoms.
Just two people in Canada, and five in the United States, are reported to have the virus.
More cases may be reported in the coming days, but experts say it is unlikely there will be an outbreak in Canada, according to CBC News. They report that Canada’s health minister, Patty Hajdu said at a news conference on Sunday that hospitals are very good at preventing and controlling infections, and the Canadian government is “working actively to limit the spread of the virus.”
The official name for the virus is 2019-nCoV, but most people know it as a coronavirus. Coronavirus is the name for a large family of viruses—including the common cold—that can cause breathing problems in people. Some coronaviruses, like the common cold, are not usually serious.
Like the common cold, coronaviruses can be spread by people coughing or sneezing, by shaking hands with a sick person, or by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
A coronavirus called SARS also started in China, in 2003. The government did not do enough to prevent SARS from spreading, and eventually it reached 17 countries.
This time, China took quick action to stop the virus from spreading. Travel to two cities where a number of cases have been reported—Wuhan and Huanggang—has been restricted. Planes and trains may not enter the cities, and public transportation within the cities, like buses and subways, is not running. Travel to eight other cities in Hubei province is also restricted.
Theatres and schools have been closed in some parts of the province, and the government is discouraging people from gathering in large groups. These restrictions are especially difficult because January 25 was the Lunar New Year in China. This is usually the start of a week-long holiday, and a time when many people travel to be with family.
People can reduce their risk of getting sick by avoiding contact with people who are sick, washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and not touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
UPDATE: On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” This declaration was, in part, a way to encourage governments around the world to work together for a solution. The WHO praised the Chinese government’s commitment to communicate with people about what is happening in the country concerning the coronavirus and for “efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak.” They said “China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in the rapid development of diagnostic tools.”
HOW TO TAKE PRECAUTIONS
From the Government of Canada website:
“Travellers are reminded to follow usual health precautions:
Wash your hands:
- Wash your hands often with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available. It’s a good idea to always keep some with you when you travel.
THINK AND DISCUSS
The government of Canada released a statement about the coronavirus. What did it say? Why do you think they released the statement?
Scientists around the world, including at a lab at the University of Saskatchewan, are working on a vaccine. What is a vaccine? How do vaccines work? Read about the University of Saskatchewan team that is working on the vaccine: https://news.usask.ca/articles/research/2020/usask-researchers-approved-to-work-on-coronavirus.php
When people first hear about a new virus, they may worry. However, once we know more about it, and the things people and governments are doing to protect us, people’s concerns often decrease. What have you learned about the coronavirus that has reduced your concern about it?
Coronaviruses can go from animals to humans. For instance, civet cats or dromedary camels to humans. Look up the word “zoonotic.”
Practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette:
- Cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs.
- If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.”
Advice from the World Health Organization about how to “reduce exposure to and transmission of” the coronavirus. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
This CBC News article answers questions like, “Should I wear a mask?” (the average Canadian doesn’t have to) and “What about handling mail from China?” (there’s little risk of infection from mail): https://www.cbc.ca/radio/checkup/from-masks-to-mail-health-experts-answer-your-questions-on-the-new-coronavirus-1.5441030
This Jan. 21 (updated Jan. 27) Macleans magazine article offers more details: https://www.macleans.ca/society/health/coronavirus-what-canadians-need-to-know/
CBC article about a lab in Saskatchewan that is working on a vaccine: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/vido-intervac-working-on-coronavirus-vaccine-1.5439118
Statement from the government of Canada about coronavirus: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories/pneumonia-china