Tag Archives: contain

Countries turn to rapid antigen tests to contain 2nd wave of COVID-19

Countries straining to contain a second wave of COVID-19 are turning to faster, cheaper but less accurate tests to avoid the delays and shortages that have plagued efforts to quickly diagnose and trace those infected.

Germany, where infections jumped by 4,122 on Tuesday to reach 329,453 cases in total, has secured nine million so-called antigen tests per month that can deliver a result in minutes and cost about $ 7.75 each. That would, in theory, cover more than 10 per cent of the population.

The United States and Canada are also buying millions of tests, as is Italy, whose recent tender for five million tests attracted offers from 35 companies. Switzerland, where new COVID-19 cases are at record levels, is considering adding the tests to its nationwide screening strategy.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) now recommends antigen tests to complement existing molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which have become the standard for assessing active infections but which have also suffered shortages as the pandemic overwhelmed laboratories and outstripped manufacturers’ production capacity.

PCR tests detect genetic material in the virus while antigen tests detect proteins on the virus’s surface, though both are meant to pick up active infections. Another type of test, for antibodies the body produces in response to an infection, can help tell if somebody has had COVID-19 in the past.

Like PCR tests, antigen tests require an uncomfortable nasal swab. They can also produce more “false negatives,” prompting some experts to recommend they only be used in a pinch.

Still, the alarming rise in new infections globally has health officials desperately pursuing more options as the winter influenza season looms.

WATCH | Is Canada on the wrong track with COVID-19 testing? 

There is a growing push to have Canada focus on COVID-19 tests that detect who is contagious rather than who is positive for the virus. These tests are available elsewhere in the world, cheaper and can be done at home, but they aren’t approved in Canada. 6:05

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported more than two million new cases last week, bringing the total worldwide to 37 million, with more than one million deaths from COVID-19.

“These point-of-care tests could make a big difference,” said Gerard Krause, epidemiology department director at Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.

No test, no flight 

Krause said low-priority patients — those without symptoms — could initially be screened with antigen tests, leaving the more accurate PCR tests for those showing signs of the disease.

Antigen tests have already gained traction in the travel industry. Italian airline Alitalia offers Rome-Milan flights exclusively for passengers with negative tests and Germany’s Lufthansa has announced similar testing plans.

But the pandemic’s vast scale has strained the ability of countries to test all of their citizens, making it difficult to track the twisting paths of infection comprehensively and prevent a resurgence.

A health worker holds a COVID-19 antigen rapid test device at an antigen test station, in Vienna in September. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

In the United States, for example, reliance on automated PCR machinery over the summer left many patients frustrated as they waited for a week or more for results.

Testing in Europe has also suffered glitches.

France does over a million tests a week, but its free-for-all testing policy has led to long queues and delays in results, prompting French researchers to come up with a test they say can produce results in 40 minutes without using a swab.

Italy is doing between 800,000 and 840,000 tests a week, more than double April’s levels, according to the Ministry of Health. But a government adviser, University of Padua microbiology professor Andrea Crisanti, said the country needs two million tests a week to really get on top of the virus.

In the Netherlands, where infection rates are among Europe’s highest, the government has been scrambling to expand weekly testing and lab capacity to 385,000 tests by next week, up from 280,000 currently. The target is nearly half a million tests a week by December and just under 600,000 by February.

But some people have been waiting days for a test. Authorities blame overwhelming demand from those without clear symptoms for clogging up the system.

In response, rapid antigen tests have been restricted to health workers and teachers, while others go on a waiting list.

Speedy results

The various hitches highlight a conundrum for governments: how to get people back to work while tracing the virus within the population quickly — without running out of supplies.

Siemens Healthineers, which on Wednesday announced the launch of a rapid antigen test kit in Europe that can deliver a result in 15 minutes, said the volumes of such diagnostic tests being circulated globally now are “at the limits” of what manufacturers can supply.

Rivals, including Abbott Laboratories and Becton Dickinson, also offer numerous COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and more and more companies are jumping in.

Medical workers take care of a patient with COVID-19 at the intensive care unit of the Infanta Sofia University hospital outside Madrid on Wednesday. A diagnostic test maker says rapid antigen tests could be deployed in places such as nursing homes or hospitals, where speedy results could thwart potentially lethal outbreaks. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)

Swiss diagnostics maker Roche announced plans on Tuesday to launch a new antigen test by the end of the year. Its fully automated systems can provide a result in 18 minutes and a single lab machine can process 300 tests an hour.

By early 2021, the Basel-based company said it could make some 50 million of the new tests a month, on top of the rapid point-of-care tests it already sells.

Roche said the test could be deployed in places such as nursing homes or hospitals, where speedy results could thwart a potentially lethal outbreak.

“The primary use case is the testing of symptomatic patients,” a Roche spokesperson said. “The secondary use case is the testing of individuals suspected of infection … which could also include asymptomatic patients.”

Expert opinion, however, on just how to use antigen tests is evolving and remains the subject of debate.

PCR remains gold standard in diagnostic testing

Switzerland, where reported new infections spiked to 2,823 cases on Wednesday from as low as three per day in June, is only now validating the accuracy of the rapid tests.

“Deployment of the rapid tests — where it makes sense — will be integrated into our testing strategy,” a spokesperson for the Swiss health ministry said. “We’ll update our testing recommendations in November.”

Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology at the University Clinic in Frankfurt, Germany said rapid antigen tests could be an option for asymptomatic people planning to visit elderly patients at nursing homes.

But people should refrain from using them as a definitive substitute to judge their infection status.

“The PCR test remains the gold standard,” Ciesek said. “An antigen test should only be used as an alternative if PCR is not possible in a timely manner.”

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CBC | Health News

NASA to Sample Asteroid Said to Contain Building Blocks of Life

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been in orbit of the asteroid Bennu since late 2018, and it’s almost time for the main event: collecting a sample from the surface. Researchers have used the last few years to get familiar with Bennu, and that has led to six studies that were just published in the journals Science and Science Advances that describe the environment and composition of the space rock. We know what OSIRIS-REx is likely to scoop up from the asteroid. Yes, rocks, but they’re exciting rocks. 

One study, led by Amy Simon from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, shows that carbon-bearing minerals are widespread on Bennu, including at the Nightingale landing zone where OSIRIS-REx will touch down. Scientists on Earth are already planning experiments on these materials that could help us understand the origin of water and life on Earth. 

Another study focused specifically on carbonate minerals (a salt of carbonic acid), which is visible in veins crisscrossing some boulders. Carbonates are usually produced in systems that have both water and carbon dioxide, leading scientists to conclude that Bennu’s long-destroyed parent body contained water. The size of the carbonate veins suggests the water system was large, on the order of miles. Again, these materials are widespread and may be present in the samples OSIRIS-REx picks up, which has researchers excited. 

Part of the probe’s mission before collecting its sample was to map the surface in detail. This allowed NASA to study the asteroid’s topography and choose a landing location. With data acquisition complete, the agency has created the most detailed map ever of an asteroid with a resolution of 20cm per pixel. The video below takes you on a tour of Bennu created with a combination of photos and laser altimeter data. 

When OSIRIS-REx descends on October 20th, it will tap the surface and use a blast of compressed nitrogen gas to (hopefully) blow regolith into the sample container. Of course, numerous asteroids fall to Earth every day, but they’ve been scorched by their journey through the atmosphere. Sampling Bennu allows scientists to study primordial material from the early solar system. One of the new studies suggests that the material around Nightingale is even better for this purpose than expected. The Nightingale site is “spectrally red” compared to much of the surface. That indicates the material was only recently uncovered and exposed to space, making it super-pristine. 

The samples from OSIRIS-REx should be back on Earth in September 2023. Until then, we’ll have to root for the probe from a few million miles away.

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ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech

Scientists struggling to understand how to contain silent spread of coronavirus before it’s too late

One of the great mysteries of the novel coronavirus is how quickly it rocketed around the world.

It first flared in central China and within three months was on every continent but Antarctica, shutting down daily life for millions. Behind the rapid spread was something that initially caught scientists off guard, baffled health authorities and undermined early containment efforts: The virus could be spread by seemingly healthy people.

As workers return to offices, children prepare to go back to school and those desperate for normalcy again visit malls and restaurants, the emerging science points to a menacing reality: If people who appear healthy can transmit the illness, it may be impossible to contain.

“It can be a killer and then 40 per cent of people don’t even know they have it,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego.

Researchers have exposed the frightening likelihood of silent spread of the virus by asymptomatic and presymptomatic carriers. But how major a role seemingly healthy people play in swelling the ranks of those infected remains unanswered — and at the top of the scientific agenda.

The small but mighty coronavirus can unlock a human cell, set up shop and mass produce tens of thousands of copies of itself in a single day. Virus levels skyrocket before the first cough, if one ever arrives. And astonishing to scientists, an estimated four in 10 infected people never have symptoms.

San Diego Metropolitan Transit System worker Chache Rolison wears a Fitbit while on the job on July 9. The device is part of a Scripps Research DETECT study to monitor a person’s heart rate and allow participants to record symptoms like fever or coughing to share with scientists, in an attempt to see if they can spot COVID-19. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

The slyness of the virus remains on the minds of many scientists as they watch societies reopen, wondering what happens if silent spreaders aren’t detected until it’s too late.

Travellers with no coughs can slip past airport screens. Workers without fevers won’t be caught by temperature checks. People who don’t feel tired and achy will attend business meetings.

And outbreaks could begin anew.

Data ‘was shocking’

As early as January, there were signs people could harbour the virus without showing symptoms. Still, many scientists remained unconvinced.

The concept of people unwittingly spreading disease has never been an easy one to grasp, from the polio epidemic of the mid-20th-century United States to the spread of HIV decades later.

As COVID-19 emerged, health officials believed it would be like other coronaviruses and that people were most infectious when showing symptoms like a cough and fever, with transmission rare otherwise.

“We were thinking this thing is going to look like SARS: a long incubation period and no transmission during the incubation period,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a disease modeller at the University of Texas at Austin.

Behind the scenes, scientists like Meyers were sharing their alarming finding with health officials. By scouring the websites of Chinese health departments, Meyers and her team found more than 50 cases between Jan. 21 and Feb. 8 where the person who brought the virus home didn’t develop symptoms until after infecting a family member.

“When we looked at the data, we said, ‘Oh no, this can’t be true,”‘ she said. “It was shocking.”

Cruise ship intrigued researchers

Rebecca Frasure, who contracted the virus while aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, sat in bed in Japan in late February, frustrated to be kept hospitalized even though she didn’t have any symptoms.

“I’m perfectly healthy except having this virus in my body,” Frasure said.

Without widespread and frequent testing, it’s impossible to know how many people without symptoms might carry it. The Diamond Princess, which idled in the Port of Yokohama while the virus exploded onboard, enticed researchers.

The quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship is anchored at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb. 19. The explosion of viral infections onboard enticed researchers to explore how many were infected without symptoms. (Yuta Omori/Kyodo News via The Associated Press)

A mathematical model built by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine aimed at estimating how many infected people without symptoms were being missed indicated that a startling three-quarters of infected people on the Princess were asymptomatic.

In Washington state, similar clues emerged for Dr. Jeff Duchin as a team of investigators examined the Life Care nursing home — the site of the first major U.S. cluster of cases — and found health-care workers were spreading the virus to other elder-care facilities. They believed at least some were working while infected but before feeling symptoms.

In March, more than half the residents at another nursing home who tested positive didn’t have symptoms.

All that underscored the need to shift gears and acknowledge the virus couldn’t be totally stopped.

“This disease is going to be extremely hard to control,” Duchin recalled thinking.

Some scientists remain doubtful

The nose and mouth are convenient entryways for the coronavirus. Once inside, the virus commandeers a cell’s machinery to copy itself while fending off the body’s immune defences. Virus levels skyrocket in the upper airway, all without symptoms early on. Many scientists believe that during these days, people can spread virus just by talking, breathing or touching surfaces.

In the truly asymptomatic, the immune system wins the battle before they ever feel sick.

As it became clearer that healthy people could spread the virus, U.S. health authorities opted not to wait for scientific certainty. In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear masks.

Days later, Chinese researchers published a paper saying patients are most infectious two to three days before developing symptoms. Evidence continues to accumulate, and the CDC now estimates 40 per cent of transmission is occurring before people feel sick.

Still, doubt remains among scientists, most notably among the World Health Organization, which has discounted the importance of asymptomatic infection — though it recently began to acknowledge that possibility and advised people to wear masks.

A man gets tested for coronavirus at a COVID19 testing centre on July 7 in Austin, Texas. The slyness of the virus is a concern to many scientists as they watch societies reopen, wondering what happens if silent spreaders aren’t detected until it’s too late. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

U.S. health officials blame China for delays in sharing information on silent spread. But Topol said the U.S. could have mounted its own testing program with viral genome sequencing.

That’s no small matter: Gaining scientific clarity earlier would have saved lives.

“We’ve been slow on everything in the United States,” Topol said. “And I have to say it’s shameful.”

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CBC | Health News

Does Trump’s latest migration clampdown contain a loophole? For Canadians, it might

News of the United States slamming its door shut on broad categories of foreign workers has unleashed bewilderment from the border to the boardrooms.

Immigration lawyers are now untangling what it means for Canadians.

Several said they spent the day Tuesday on group chats, seeking information from industry associations and contacting sources inside the U.S. government.

That’s because of the wording of an executive order announced Monday by President Donald Trump that suspends, at least for the rest of this year, vast categories of business and student-work visas.

Some believe it might affect thousands of Canadians and potentially disrupt their jobs, cross-border businesses and families.

Most think it contains a giant loophole for Canadians. At least for now.

Immigration lawyers in touch with U.S. border offices said agents expressed conflicting views and were awaiting instructions from Washington.

“It’s going to be a little chaotic for a while,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former U.S. Homeland Security official and immigration expert once posted at the American embassy in Ottawa

“My guess is we won’t know for a little while [what this means], until [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] and [the Department of Homeland Security] issue their guidance.”

She offered this advice: If you’re a Canadian unsure whether this order applies to you, try contacting officials at whatever U.S. border checkpoint you intend to cross.

The fine print in Trump’s order

The potential Canadian loophole is in Section 3 of the order, which suspends the processing of popular work visas in the L, J and H-1B category.

That section says the visa ban only applies to people currently outside the U.S., who lack a valid visa or travel document. It so happens that most Canadians already have a valid travel document to the U.S.

It’s called a passport.

WATCH | COVID-19 cases rise in U.S. south, west:

Cases of COVID-19 are rising in the southern and western parts of the U.S. Experts say it’s a sign some states reopened too soon, and the situation could get much worse if changes aren’t made. 1:55

One immigration lawyer said that’s a distinction not shared by most citizens of other countries, who generally need a visa or visa waiver to enter the U.S.

“Canadian citizens are unique in the world,” said Danielle Rizzo, a partner at the Harris Beach law firm in Buffalo, N.Y., and former head of liaison between U.S. Customs and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“My take is [this order] does not apply to Canadian citizens but it’s not extremely straightforward. … I think it was probably an oversight [in the drafting of the order].”

Trump’s order constitutes a significant escalation of his immigration-curbing policies

He cast it as a measure to protect 525,000 U.S. jobs from foreign competition, amid a pandemic that has wiped out more than 18 million U.S. jobs.

An American ‘tragedy’

But to one former immigration official in the Obama White House, this is a heartbreaking moment in U.S. history.

“I think this is a tragedy,” said Doug Rand, who now runs a company, Boundless Immigration, that helps immigrants obtain U.S. residency and citizenship.

“And it’s a huge self-inflicted wound for this country — in terms of our values, our economy, and our ability to overcome this pandemic.”

He said that Trump has progressively chipped away at visa rules to make it more difficult to immigrate, and said it has caused one friend, a PhD in biomedical sciences, to move to Canada.

“Good job, Canada,” Rand said.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Dream City Church in Phoenix on Tuesday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

A Harvard business professor published a paper this spring warning that the U.S.’s out-of-date immigration system, which has not been reformed in decades, risks sapping the country of its great historical advantage in drawing top talent.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to reform the system to prioritize skilled labour, like Canada’s points system

But there’s no sign of any such legislation passing Congress, and what Trump has mostly done instead is tighten existing policies by executive order, culminating in this week’s.

In crisis, some Canadians see opportunity

Now, as in any crisis, some see opportunity. 

Canadian tech companies are signalling their intention to recruit some of the workers now barred from the U.S. 

Canada had, before the pandemic struck, experienced a historic population boom, fuelled by foreign students and skilled workers. The OECD credited policies created by successive governments in Ottawa a role model.

One immigrant to Canada is now working to take advantage of Trump’s executive order.

Ilya Brotzky came to Canada from the Soviet Union when he was five, accompanying his mother, a horticultural engineer. 

He now runs VanHack, which has 32 employees, mostly in Canada, that has recruited 600 tech workers from India and South America on behalf of companies looking to expand Canadian operations.

Brotzky said he’s begun talking to colleagues about how to track down and recruit people who have been shut out of the U.S.

U.S. border agents are awaiting instructions from Washington. Different checkpoints are interpreting the rules for Canadians differently. Seen here is the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit in 2018. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg)

He said many of these people will be hired by the exact same companies and will work remotely outside the U.S. — and make money and pay taxes outside the U.S.

“These are highly skilled, coveted workers who have a lot to contribute,” said the Vancouver-based entrepreneur.

“I think it’ll hurt the U.S.”

One thing he wonders is whether Trump’s announcement was a mere election-year political stunt.

After all, during the pandemic, U.S. government offices are being shuttered and immigration applications have slowed to a trickle.

But Rizzo said companies are still moving people around.

What happens next?

She said she’s still processing L visa applications for Canadian intra-company transfers during this pandemic, and has reason to hope it will continue. 

What’s next, in light of Trump’s order? 

It depends who you ask. 

Cardinal Brown said she’s not sure Canadians get an exemption. The U.S. National Law Review called the Canadian situation unclear

And different cases might yield different results.

Rizzo said she received about 100 queries Wednesday and every situation is different. For example, she said, Canadian workers might be able to cross but not with a spouse who’s a non-Canadian.

Two Canadian-based lawyers specializing in U.S. immigration, Henry Chang at Dentons in Toronto and Andrea Vaitzner at Norton Rose Fulbright in Montreal, opined that the current wording of the order likely spares Canadians.

But both urged caution.

“It is too early to know with certainty whether [Trump’s order] will be applied in a manner that exempts Canadian citizens,” Chang wrote in an analysis.

“Hopefully, this issue will be clarified in the near future.”

Vaitzner said it would be a serious mistake for the U.S. to halt L-1 visas, used for transfers of executives between company offices.

“It would be a huge blow to businesses,” she said.

“[These executives] travel intermittently to the U.S. to do work at their company’s U.S. office or to visit [customers, suppliers and partners]. I do not understand how banning Canadian L-1  applicants from entering the U.S. would alleviate the unemployment rate in the U.S.”

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CBC | World News

Positive COVID-19 tests unavoidable, leagues must aim to contain potential outbreaks

As sport leagues inch closer to a pandemic comeback, many athletes are making headlines for testing positive for COVID-19.

Four tennis players tested positive at a tournament hosted by Novak Djokovic, leading them to cancel an event final. MLB teams have closed training facilities after multiple teams reported cases. A handful of NFL franchises have been struck as well.

But there’s nothing to be worried about. At least, not yet.

“At some point, between all the leagues and all the testing that’s going to happen, someone’s going to test positive,” said Dr. Issac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital. “That’s not going to be a surprise.”

In fact, expect to see more positive cases. With athletes heading back to competition and training camps after living by their own rules — some in more high-risk areas than others — it’s unrealistic to expect suggested self-isolation protocols will be universally followed.

That’s why many leagues and tournament outlines are designed around tracing the positive cases to keep them from spreading.

WATCH | Pro leagues plan return despite growing COVID-19 rates:

As professional sports leagues plot their return to action, CBC News’ Cameron MacIntosh details the recent spike in the number of athletes who have contracted COVID-19. 2:43

On the other hand, Dr. Bogoch is keeping an eye on what happens once athletes are back to their routines.

“What would be unnerving would be to see if there’s sustained transmission within a bubble despite all these measures taken to prevent that,” he said. “That would be concerning.”

No perfect plans

Dr. Bogoch is impressed by the plans he’s seen from leagues like the NBA and NHL, which put together hundred-page proposals to form bubbles in order to keep athletes and staff safe while re-opening. 

But in situations like these, there’s no such thing as a completely sealed bubble.

“There’s going to be some hole, however tiny. There are going to be some holes in any bubble for any sport in any location,” he said.

So the key is to watch how fast each league and tournament is able to shut down the cases that do occur.

“If does get in, it can’t get very far because there’s diagnostic testing, physical distancing, hand sanitation,” he said. “We get there’s athletes that are going to be close to each other, but hopefully with the surveillance systems in place and the testing people will get identified really quickly and not contribute to transmission in the bubble.

“If there are these stringent measures and these bubbles are in place and people are getting infected in spite of all these protective layers, then yeah, we got a problem.”

WATCH | Federal government approves NHL resumption plan:

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday confirmed the federal government has approved the NHL’s plan to return to play in Canada. 6:47

That being said, in Bogoch’s opinion, it won’t be as simple as a high number of cases that determines whether a league’s plan is working or whether it should admit defeat against the virus.

“It’s not going to be a hard number you’re going to set and go ‘Ok, after we have a blank number of cases we’ve got to shut it down.'” he said. “It’s going to be a value judgment and basically look at the number of people involved and the extent to which there’s involvement. Like, ‘is it just one team or is it multiple teams or multiple people that are separated by time and space but still in the bubble?’

“These are things that will be taken into consideration I think.”

Florida the test vehicle

And some leagues have proven in the right environment — with the right plan — sport can safely happen during the pandemic. The Korean Baseball Organization has successfully run its season since early May without any major roadblocks. The Premier League and Bundesliga have kept their seasons going despite some positive cases. And Spain’s national basketball league is in the middle of a successful centralized, condensed tournament to crown a champion.

But leagues like the NBA, WNBA and MLS which plan to start their seasons next month in Florida will be putting their plans to the ultimate test. The state set a single-day record last week with just over 4,000 new cases, making the state the new hot spot in the U.S.

“Despite the best laid plans, if you’re going to be putting players in a bubble in an area where there’s a significant amount of disease transmission, you still may introduce the disease into the bubble,” Dr. Bogoch said. “And you have to be very careful to adhere to the measures in place to make sure there’s no further transmissions.”

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Global pact forged to drastically cut oil production to contain price crash

The OPEC cartel and other oil producers agreed Sunday to cut crude production by at least a tenth of global supply — an unprecedented move to stabilize the market.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman all support the deal, which would see global crude output cut by 9.7 million barrels a day, the Kremlin said Sunday.

OPEC confirmed in a release the cuts will begin May 1 and continue until June 30. After that, the countries will keep gradually decreasing curbs on production until April 202. From July until December of this year, output cuts will continue at 7.7 million bpd, and 5.8 million bpd for the 16 months after that.

The so-called OPEC+ countries agreed to have Mexico reduce its daily output by 100,000 barrels only for those two months, which had been a sticking point for the accord. The pact came after a marathon video conference between officials from 23 nations. The group will meet again in June to determine if further actions are needed.

OPEC+ said in a draft statement seen by Reuters effective oil output cuts could amount to more than 20 million bpd, or 20 per cent of global supply, if contributions from non-members, steeper voluntary cuts by some OPEC+ members and strategic stocks purchases were taken into account.

Global measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus have destroyed demand for fuel and driven down oil prices, straining budgets of oil producers. Consumption has dropped by an estimated 30 million bpd.

Trump had threatened OPEC leader Saudi Arabia with oil tariffs and other measures if it did not fix the market’s oversupply problem. Low prices have put the U.S. oil industry, the world’s largest, in severe distress.

Canada hasn’t committed to specific cuts

OPEC+ has said it wanted producers outside the group, such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and Norway, to cut a further five per cent, or five million bpd. 

Canada and Norway had signalled their willingness to cut, but as of Friday, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had said Canada had yet to promise any specific production cuts.

Alberta, Canada’s biggest oil-producing region, “has already formerly curtailed 80,000 barrels per day,” O’Regan said.

“This is good. We welcome any news that brings stability to global oil markets,” O’Regan said in an emailed statement to CBC News Sunday.

“The federal government is deeply concerned about oil price instability and the impact on thousands of workers in Canada’s energy sector, and their families. 

“Canada is committed to achieving price certainty and economic stability. We will keep working with provinces, businesses, labour, Indigenous communities and our international partners, including the G20.”

A government source told CBC News Sunday that Canada has not committed to production cuts as that would fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Deal won’t turn market around, economist says

Concordia University economics professor Moshe Lander said while the news should in theory be good for Canadian producers, “the proof is in the pudding.”

“I think that markets in general are usually pretty suspicious of OPEC announcements unless there’s a clear announcement of enforcement and consequences for noncompliance,” he said. “Maybe when markets open on Tuesday you might see oil prices jump a little bit.

“I don’t think that this is going to turn the market around.”

Kevin Birn, an analyst with IHS Markit in Calgary, said though the scale and scope of the deal was unprecedented, it is not a sufficient solution to ongoing demand shock brought on by COVID-19.

“What it will potentially do is stave off the lowest potential price that we could’ve seen,” he said. “Of course, the outcome of this remains to be seen in how well the producers adhere to it themselves, which has always been a traditional problem of any of these deals.”

Additional volumes will still have to come off during this period, Birn said, implying there is still a tough road ahead for producers around the world and in Western Canada.

“I think it’s reasonable that we will see some movement on price coming out of the other side of this when the markets open, some optimism,” he said. “But I would caution being too excited about this. We still have a larger issue.”

The United States, where legislation makes it hard to act in tandem with cartels such as OPEC, said its output would fall steeply by itself this year due to low prices.

Mexico had initially blocked the deal but its president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, had said Friday that he had agreed with Trump that the U.S. will compensate what Mexico cannot add to the proposed cuts.

“The United States will help Mexico along and they’ll reimburse us sometime at later date when they’re prepared to do so,” Trump said at a White House press briefing Friday.

‘Economic conditions continue to worsen’

Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments in Toronto, said in a release that while the deal was historic, challenges remain — such as the capacity of storage facilities before the deal begins, and questions about what enforcement mechanisms will apply to nations who renege on the agreement. 

“Perhaps most importantly, economic conditions continue to worsen on a global basis, with shutdowns extending, trade flat lining, and unemployment levels surging to historic levels. Demand declines may outpace any production cuts, leaving storage facilities to continue filling,” he wrote.

A 15 per cent cut in supply might not be enough to arrest the global price decline, banks Goldman Sachs and UBS predicted last week, saying Brent prices would fall back to $ 20 US per barrel from $ 32 at the moment, and $ 70 at the start of the year.

As Asian markets reopened Monday local time, West Texas Intermediate crude was trading at $ 22 US per barrel.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Twitter Sunday that while there are challenging months ahead, the deal puts the sector on a path to recovery.

“We are glad to see sanity return to global oil markets. As I have said, OPEC+ started the fire, and it was their responsibility to put it out,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage referred CBC News to a Friday statement, saying the minister was cautiously pleased by the deal.

“The agreement to implement production limits by OPEC+ brings global energy producers in line with measures that Alberta has reluctantly taken since January 2019,” she said

“However, demand will return as economies around the globe recover from this pandemic. Life will return to normal. In the interim, we hope that the measures taken by OPEC+ will stabilize the global price of oil and prevent further stress to energy workers in Alberta.”

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Trump declares national emergency to contain coronavirus

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday that he is declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, as Washington struggles with providing Americans with relief and officials race to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Speaking from the White House, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency,” unleashing as much as $ 50 billion US for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. 

Trump also announced a range of executive actions, including a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities with drive-through locations, as his administration has come under fire for being too slow in making the test available.

Later in the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal with the Trump administration for an aid package from Congress that would provide free tests, sick pay for workers and bolster food programs.

“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Pelosi announced in a letter to colleagues. The House was poised to vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi updates reporters Friday about talks on the federal aid package. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

Access to testing has been a persistent source of concern. Still, Trump said that officials don’t want people taking the test unless they have certain symptoms. “We don’t want people without symptoms to go and do that test,” Trump said, adding, “It’s totally unnecessary.”

He also denied responsibility for the slow rollout of testing. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said. 

Trump took a number of other actions to bolster energy markets, ease the financial burden for Americans with student loans and give medical professionals additional “flexibility” in treating patients during the public health crisis.

WATCH | How Europe is reacting to Trump’s COVID-19 travel ban:

Long lines, anxiety and confusion at European airports after Donald Trump bans travel from Europe to the U.S. 2:01

He waived interest on federally held student loans and moved to prop up energy markets by directing the Department of Energy to buy oil to fill the strategic petroleum reserve “right up to the top.”

“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said.

Declaration welcomed

The White House is under enormous pressure, dealing with the crisis on multiple fronts as it encroached ever closer on the president.

The virus has swept in alarming ways across American life, sending the financial markets into a dangerous slide and shuttering schools and sporting events and limiting everyday interactions in communities across the country.

And a personal health scare intensified as White House officials worked to determine the level of exposure by the president and senior aides to several foreign officials who have since tested positive for the virus.

A sign informs visitors that Space Needle is closed on Friday in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Trump said he was gratified that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for the virus, after the pair sat next to each other for an extended period last weekend. A senior aide to Bolsonaro tested positive. “We have no symptoms whatsoever,” said Trump, who has not gotten tested for the virus or taken steps to self-isolate.

Hospitals welcomed Trump’s emergency declaration, which they and lawmakers in Congress had been requesting. It allows the Health and Human Services Department to temporarily waive certain federal rules that can make it harder for hospitals and other health-care facilities to respond to an emergency.

Such rules include a Medicare requirement that a patient spend three days in the hospital before the program will pay for care in a nursing facility. Waiving the rule would make more inpatient beds available. Another rule requires doctors and other clinicians to be licensed in the state in which they are providing services. It can be waived if the physician is licensed in another state.

The American Medical Association said the emergency declaration would help ensure the health-care system has sufficient resources to properly respond to the ongoing outbreak.

Traders listen at the New York Stock Exchange to Trump’s televised speech from the White House on Friday. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Trump’s actions were also viewed favourably on Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 1,985 points, or 9.4 per cent, its best gain since October 2008. Stocks doubled their gains in the last half-hour of trading as Trump made his remarks.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks.

Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s health-care system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

The ability to ensure paycheques will keep flowing — for people who stay home as a preventative measure or because they’re feeling ill or caring for others — can help assure Americans they will not fall into financial hardship.

A volunteer checks their mask at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday. (Chancey Bush/The Gazette via AP)

A deal between Congress and the White House would cap a tumultuous week in which Washington strained for a comprehensive response to an outbreak that is testing the nation’s political, financial and health-care systems.

Trump has struggled to show he’s on top of the crisis, after giving conflicting descriptions of what the U.S. is doing to combat the virus.

The House aid package builds on an emergency $ 8.3 billion US measure approved last week.

WATCH | How scientists at Johns Hopkins University are tracking COVID-19:

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University had predicted the COVID-19 outbreak and are now working to track the virus. 2:03

Pelosi promised a third coronavirus package will follow soon, though the House is leaving Washington on Friday for a previously scheduled recess. That measure will include more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.

But there’s little appetite within either party for Trump’s proposal to suspend collection of the 6.2 per cent Social Security payroll tax. States are already clamouring for fiscal relief from Washington as the virus threatens their budgets.

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What if China fails to contain the coronavirus outbreak?

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

China’s efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak by quarantining millions are unprecedented. But experts say if they fail, the global ramifications could be catastrophic.

An estimated 50 million people are under quarantine in China’s central Hubei province. While there is hope for a downward trend in the number of cases, the unforeseen consequences of the quarantines have called their effectiveness into question.

“I don’t think the quarantine was warranted in China,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

“It probably is going to end up having a paradoxical negative impact, as it isolated the outbreak zone and made the situation worse there while sowing distrust among public health authorities and making it more logistically hard to get supplies there.”

Adalja said the fact that quarantines were put in place weeks after the outbreak began is another reason why he believes they are ineffective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. 

The first patient to develop symptoms of coronavirus fell ill in early December and had no contact with the seafood market in Wuhan where the outbreak is thought to have begun, according to a study of cases published in The Lancet late last month.

A medical staff member takes samples from a person to be tested for the new coronavirus at a quarantine zone in Wuhan on Tuesday. One expert says the quarantine was likely put into place in China too late to be effective. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

“He contracted that illness in November. So that virus had been circulating in the outbreak zone for some weeks before it was noticed,” Adalja said.

“It’s unlikely that this was ever really restricted to the outbreak zone and that there were likely patients all over China that had mild illness that may have been misdiagnosed or mixed in with other flu and respiratory illnesses.” 

Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said infectious disease experts are starting to lose faith in the effectiveness of the quarantine efforts.

“I think we’re getting more concerned. I think before we thought, ‘OK, there was a chance to contain it,'” he said.

“Ultimately, it limits the transfer of medical supplies and goods into the region … and we’re starting to see that once one domino starts to fall, it actually starts to affect everything.”

What if the coronavirus spreads worldwide?

Ninety-nine per cent of coronavirus cases are contained within China. Of those, 80 per cent are in Hubei, the World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday. 

“The relatively small number of cases outside of China gives us a window of opportunity to prevent this outbreak from becoming a broader global crisis,” he said. 

“Our greatest concern is about the potential for spread in countries with weaker health systems and who lack the capacity to detect or diagnose the virus. We are only as strong as the weakest link.”

We are only as strong as the weakest link.– WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Tedros said WHO’s current focus is on supporting the Chinese government to address the outbreak at its epicentre in Wuhan.   

But developing nations worldwide could be at particular risk if quarantine efforts fail in China due to their fragile health care networks and funding deficits. Other ongoing disease outbreaks like Ebola may also exacerbate their ability to respond effectively. 

Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Nepal have already recorded cases. One death has also been recorded in the Philippines — a 44-year-old man who had travelled there from Wuhan.

Adjala expects the coronavirus to have a high “attack rate” in different countries, because people there will not have any immunity.

“Not all of those patients are going to be critically ill, but they all are going to take up resources and lead to crowding in hospitals,” he said. 

The possibility that the virus could spread to African nations is also of major concern.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top emergencies expert, said at a media briefing Wednesday that as of Feb. 3, only two African nations — Senegal and South Africa — could diagnose coronavirus, but most would have the ability as of Friday.

“Countries that don’t have the public health infrastructure, on one hand, potentially have an issue with additional introductions that may go unnoticed,” said Dr. John Brownstein, a Harvard medical professor, epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“And then, of course, that represents the opportunities for movement to other places where people can’t predict.”

A doctor talks with a patient during his rounds at the ward of a quarantine zone in Wuhan on Monday. One expert says the novel coronavirus will have a high ‘attack rate’ if it spreads in other countries. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Kindrachuk, who worked on the ground in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, says there is reason for concern. 

“There is still a high incidence of respiratory illness and respiratory complications in the general populace in a lot of these regions,” he said. 

“Even things like influenza are still a massive burden.” 

But Kindrachuk says the coronavirus is being taken seriously by health officials throughout Africa and that many countries are more prepared now than they were before the Ebola outbreak. 

“They know what’s going on. They’re plugged in. They are looking for updates from the African CDC and from the WHO,” he said. 

“I don’t want to say that they’re going to be absolutely fine, but I think that they’re doing everything that they can do to be prepared.”

What else can be done to stop the spread? 

The WHO has stressed the need for global “solidarity” to address the spread of the coronavirus and is asking for $ 675 million US in funding for the next three months. 

“Invest today, or pay more later,” Tedros said at a press briefing Wednesday. “[It] is a lot of money, but it’s much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now during the window of opportunity that we have.” 

If that window of opportunity is missed, there is the possibility of the virus becoming endemic — something that re-emerges on a seasonal basis. 

Adalja says the new coronavirus would then join four others that regularly circulate worldwide — OC43 and 229E, HKU1 and NL63. Their symptoms include the common cold, pneumonia and upper respiratory infections.

“When you look at the trajectory of the outbreak with the novel coronavirus, it appears that it is also following a kind of seasonal virus pattern,” he said. 

“We’re at the point where you have to think that there is a real possibility that this virus may end up spreading in the community in a manner that’s similar to the other coronaviruses.” 

A medical staff member talks on her phone as she organizes transferring patients in Wuhan on Jan. 26. Many developing countries are still struggling to treat influenza; experts fear coronavirus could overwhelm them. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Influenza kills an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 people worldwide per year. Kindrachuk says that too often, the general public considers it a relatively mild disease. 

“But are we ready as a global population to be able to take on something that has that big of an effect on our healthcare networks?” he said. 

“All we can do is try and increase our ability to be prepared and be responsive and also understand that we’re linked as a global community now — whether you like it or not.”

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, please subscribe.

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‘We’re opening everything’: Scientists share coronavirus data in unprecedented way to contain, treat disease

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

When the story of the coronavirus (2019-nCOV) is finally written, it might well become a template for the utopian dream of open science — where research data is shared freely, unrestrained by competition, paywalls and patents. 

Already the world knows more about the early days of this outbreak than it did when SARS first appeared in China in 2002, as scientists unite in unprecedented scientific collaboration aimed at containing and treating this disease.

As detailed accounts of the first cases have been published in prominent medical journals, it’s clear that scientists were among the first responders at hospitals in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak. 

One patient, a 49-year-old woman, was a merchant at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. In late December, she developed a fever and a cough and had an uncomfortable sensation in her chest. After four days, the cough became serious enough that she went to the hospital where a CT scan revealed she had pneumonia.

The same day that she was admitted to a Wuhan hospital, a 61-year-old man arrived with similar symptoms. He was a frequent visitor to the Huanan market and had been suffering from a fever and a cough for a week before showing up at the hospital. He was so sick that he needed mechanical ventilation to breathe. 

As doctors struggled to treat what was still an unknown illness, a team of scientists arrived from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

They collected fluid from deep in the patients’ lungs and carefully placed them in sterile cups to begin the process of isolating the unknown virus believed to be causing this atypical pneumonia. 

The woman survived, and she has been released from hospital. The man died. But their lung samples provided some of the earliest glimpses of a new and deadly human pathogen. 

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, is seen in an illustration released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Wednesday. (Alissa Eckert/Dan Higgins/MAM/CDC/Reuters)

Within days, those scientists and several others had sequenced the viral genome, deciphering the virus’s genetic code — a vital key to diagnosing and ultimately treating the disease. They immediately shared that critical genetic roadmap with researchers all over the world.

That early collaboration allowed doctors in other countries to be ready when the first cases appeared outside China. 

Watching the virus mutate in real time 

Because the viral genomes had been publicly released, when a  65-year-old man and his 27-year-old son were admitted to a hospital in Vietnam on Jan. 22, doctors there were able to identify the virus, isolate the patients, backtrack their travel history and monitor 28 close contacts, none of whom have developed symptoms.

By then evolutionary biologist Trevor Bedford had already used the growing database of viral genomes to conclude this virus made the leap from animals to humans sometime in mid-November, an astonishingly precise estimate that helped scientists understand how long the virus had been infecting people. 

“In looking at the genomes that were coming in from Wuhan, we could see that there was very little genetic diversity,” said Bedford, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.

The low number of mutations not only told him the virus was new in humans, it also corrected an early misunderstanding and revealed that the virus was spreading easily between humans. 

“As soon as the first genomes were coming in, it became clear that there’s lots of human-to-human spread,” he said.

The availability of having a full genome sequence of a novel virus available to the public to be able to develop diagnostics, to be able to diagnose patients in other countries is unprecedented.– Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO infectious disease epidemiologist

The genome data also allowed some groups to quickly zero in on the animal source, by using the genetic data to link this virus to one found in Chinese horseshoe bats.

Just three weeks after the first viral sequence was published, more than 42 different genomes are available on Nextstrain, an open source viral genome database that continues to grow as scientists diagnose patients and publish the viral genomes in just a few days. 

Evolutionary biologist Trevor Bedford used the growing database of viral genomes to conclude the coronavirus made the leap from animals to humans sometime in mid-November, an astonishingly precise estimate that helped scientists understand how long the virus had been infecting people. (Robert Hood/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center)

That data is allowing Bedford to watch the virus mutate in real time, making it possible to identify how people became infected and which cases are linked. It also provides critical data to allow other scientists to estimate the size of the epidemic.

Other groups are using the genetic data to develop rapid diagnostic tests and begin working on antiviral drugs. And already at least five different groups have started working on a possible vaccine, including one from Saskatchewan

“The availability of having a full genome sequence of a novel virus available to the public to be able to develop diagnostics, to be able to diagnose patients in other countries is unprecedented,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the World Health Organization (WHO) news conference on Wednesday. 

Sharing virus samples ‘essential’: WHO

On Tuesday, Australia announced that its scientists are the first outside China to grow the novel virus and will share it with the world.

“It is essential that viruses are shared so that the further development of diagnostics and serologic assays — so that the further development of vaccines — can continue,” said Van Kerkhove.

Part of the first genetic sequence of the coronavirus was released to the world on Jan. 10. (GenBank by Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and School of Public Health, Fudan University)

To keep on top of the rapidly breaking science, medical and scientific journals agreed to send copies of coronavirus papers to WHO before publication, with the authors’ permission. WHO announced this development in a tweet with the headline, “Great news!”

“That is a little different,” said Edward Campion, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. “The WHO wants to know what’s going on in China and have asked us to help in getting information.”

The journal also announced that it is speeding up its peer review. 

 “Some of these articles have been reviewed and edited and revised in 48 or even 24 hours, including working overnight and weekends but still going through rigorous peer review to meet the standards that we think are important,” said Campion. “We have some peer reviewers who’ve agreed to work overtime.”

On Friday, 67 leading research organizations and scientific journal publishers from around the world announced an agreement to make relevant coronavirus research immediately available and free.

Bedford said the current climate of sharing is unusual for scientists.

“You don’t really talk externally that much because you’re trying to get your best science so it can’t be scooped,” he said.

“You only really talk about things once it’s all been published. This is flipping that around entirely where people are just being completely open with what they know.” 

University of Montreal researcher Vincent Larivière said the current climate of open science suggests that science-as-usual creates barriers. (Amélie Philibert)

It’s a temporary glimpse of a world where science is openly shared. But the measures also raise questions about the way science-as-usual is practised.

Vincent Larivière is an information scientist and professor at the University of Montreal, who studies the way science is disseminated. He said the move to speed up publication and share research is a tacit admission that business-as-usual in research slows down science.

“[They say] we’re opening everything because it’s important that we advance things fast. Well, the flip side of this argument is that your normal behaviour is to put barriers to science.”

“This virus is dangerous and deadly, but there’s lots of other diseases that are dangerous and deadly, and for which opening could save lives. So if you really want to go in that direction, just open everything.” 

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Coronavirus in Canada: What are the next steps to contain the disease here?

The next steps for Canada’s coronavirus patient zero include two weeks of monitoring in isolation and quarantine for those who’ve been in close contact with him, infectious disease physicians say.

The man in his 50s had travelled to Wuhan, China, and is currently in stable condition at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said he showed mild symptoms on a flight from Guangzhou to Toronto.

Travellers followed

Tam said the latest scientific data suggests that people transmit the virus when they’re in close contact with others.

“It’s really fellow travellers or family members travelling with a patient that are [at the highest risk],” Tam told a news conference on Sunday. Toronto Public Health officials will provide travellers who were within a two-metre radius of the patient on the plane with information.

Watch | The National looks at what is known so far about Canada’s 1st presumed coronavirus case:

A patient in Toronto is being treated in isolation for what Canadian health officials call the first ‘presumptive’ confirmed case of coronavirus. 2:11

Tam said airline staff who may have served the man will also be informed.

“What I would like to emphasize is that for other people on the flight, or in the airport or not in close contact with the patient, is that they should not be overly concerned,” Tam said.

The latest scientific data suggests that people transmit the coronavirus when they’re in close contact with others, said Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CBC News spoke to a passenger who said he was on China Southern Airlines flight CZ311, which took off on Tuesday to Toronto from Guangzhou. Despite Tam’s reassurance, the passenger from Toronto, who didn’t want to be identified because of the stigma associated with the coronavirus, said he was going to self-quarantine on his own initiative for two weeks.

“I am worried,” he wrote to CBC News on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. “I am worried for me and my family.”

The risk of outbreak in Canada remains low, Tam said in reiterating that if someone has travelled to the affected area in Wuhan and has fever or flu-like symptoms, they should call a doctor.

China’s health minister said the transmissibility of the virus “shows signs of increasing.” 

A negative pressure isolation treatment room at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases with a focus on antimicrobial stewardship at Sinai Health System, said he’s concerned about how the Canadian public could respond to China’s health ministry information on how people might be infectious when not showing symptoms.

In China, officials strive for people to self-quarantine based on exposure to a high-risk place such as the live-animal market in Wuhan or being in close contact with someone known to be infected.

“What they’re trying to do [in China] is tell people you can’t just go by your symptoms,” Morris said. “If you’ve got an exposure history risk then you may be contagious even though you don’t have symptoms. That may be wise especially where the prevalence of the disease is high.

“I don’t think it’s applicability is there for … many of the other countries in the world, including Canada.”

Morris said he’s telling family and friends outside of health-care settings in Canada they don’t need to do anything differently.

Dr. Jerome Leis, director of infection prevention and control at Sunnybrook, said the care for the coronavirus patient isn’t affecting other patients. (CBC)

In the U.S., Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said to expect more cases to be reported in the U.S. in the coming days. Like Tam, she described the risk to the public as “low at this time.”

“We need to be preparing as if this is a pandemic, but I continue to hope that it is not,” Messonnier told reporters.

The patient’s care

Dr. Jerome Leis of Sunnybrook said day-to-day business at the hospital continues as normal. “It is not affecting the care we provide for all of our other patients.”

Since there are no specific treatments for the virus, currently known in scientific circles as 2019-nCoV, the man will receive supportive care to relieve symptoms, Morris said.

The patient will be kept in isolation until infectious disease physicians consider the risk to the general public negligible, Morris said. Before that, they may conduct virus studies to check that he is no longer contagious.

“He’s been rapidly processed, appropriately processed and the degree of risk reduction has really been quite impressive,” Morris said.

“If you think of what it’s like today compared to how we were 17 years ago with SARS, that change is dramatic and hopefully that’s going to substantially reduce the risk to the public.”

Containment efforts

Paramedics who transported the patient wore protective equipment such as masks.

At the hospital, the patient was put in special isolation in a negative pressure room with a vacuum to suck all of the air out and filter out any infectious particles.

Standard public health protocols include tracing “close contacts” of a patient with the virus, such as those living with the sick person.

In Canada, close contacts are asked to self-isolate at home so public health officials can observe if they get symptoms or not.

According to the CDC, people who have “casual contact,” such as going to the same grocery store, “are at minimal risk for developing infection.”

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