Despite public fear, risk of coronavirus in Okanagan low

B.C. has a confirmed case of the coronavirus; however the risk to British Columbians remains low.

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared coronavirus an international public health emergency on Thursday (Jan. 30). The announcement is only the sixth time such an emergency has been declared.

“The greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” said WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros, during a press conference in Geneva.

As of Jan 30. the virus has infected 8,247 people and caused 171 deaths worldwide, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

READ MORE: Okanagan man’s interactive map shows coronavirus spread

On Jan. 28, health officials in B.C. announced the first confirmed case of the virus in the province, bringing the country’s confirmed total cases to three.

However, Interior Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control are insisting that the risk of contracting the virus remains low across the province.

“We have no confirmed cases in Interior Health and we continue to work with our provincial partners to monitor the situation as it progresses. We would only speak if there were confirmed cases,” said the Interior Health communications department.

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry also urged that the public should not be overly concerned.

“The risk of spread of this virus within British Columbia remains low at this time. All necessary precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of infection. We have multiple systems in place to prepare for, detect and respond to prevent the spread of serious infectious diseases in the province,” said Dr. Henry.

Dr. Henry also noted that people do not need to take any extra precautions to avoid the virus in B.C.

“Regular hand washing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow sleeve, disposing of tissues appropriately and avoiding contact with sick people are important ways to prevent the spread of respiratory illness generally,” Dr. Henry said.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control also stated that wearing surgical masks offers no extra protection from the virus and that they may actually be harmful.

“It may be less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves. Masks may give a person a false sense of security and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face to adjust the mask,” said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on Twitter.

READ MORE: Kelowna medical supply shop sold out of surgical masks amid coronavirus panic

As for people travelling outside the province, The Public Health Agency of Canada is urging that all non-essential travel to China be avoided. Air Canada has also cancelled all flights to Shanghai and Beijing due to the virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has implemented reminders at international airports asking travellers to inform a border service officer if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms and are arriving from an affected area.

British Columbians should always tell their health care providers about their recent travel if they become ill after returning to Canada, said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

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