Thompson Rivers University has placed staff and faculty travel to China on hold due to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, but officials are echoing Canadian health officials in noting the risk of contracting the virus locally remains very low.
“There are no cases at TRU and we urge everyone to seek information through the BC Centre For Disease Control and the Public Health Agency of Canada,” Darshan Lindsay, the university’s communications director, told KTW.
She said TRU, like other universities, is monitoring the situation and following the lead of public health officials when addressing the situation on campus.
“So, for us, that means that current precautions are no different than what we would ask of anyone during routine flu season,” Lindsay said.
She did note that, in addition to the halt in travel to China, the university has established an advisory group that is meeting regularly. Its work includes monitoring travel activity and providing information to all students — domestic and international, on campus and abroad.
“That’s to ensure we are prepared and able to respond if the situation changes and if it would have an impact on our university community,” Lindsay said. “These measures are all out of an abundance of caution, again noting that public health officials have stressed that the risk remains low.”
For the most part, Lindsay said, the decision on staff and faculty trips to China includes business travel, such as research or recruitment activities, which often take place overseas.
However, it can also include student trips, though Lindsay said she is not aware of any student trips planned to the area.
“It would include anything that is organized through the university,” she said.
Meanwhile, the university has not made changes to policy preventing students from arriving from China.
Lindsay noted the university does not have any new students arriving as new students for the winter semester would have arrived the first week of January.
In the last school year (2018-2019), there were about 4,000 international students on campus, according to university statistics, of which 33 per cent were from China.
Lindsay said the number of students who travelled to China in recent weeks has been less than a half-dozen — and none of whom she is aware travelled to Wuhan City, the city of 11 million where the novel coronavirus originated.
“We’re aware of a few students — and it’s a very small number of students — who had recently travelled to China and there are no concerns,” she said.
The Kamloops-Thompson school district has posted on its website a statement related to the novel coronavirus outbreak:
“The Ministry [of Education] will continue to be in close contact with public health officials and, with that in mind, would ask you to ensure that no assumptions are made about the risk of students or staff based on their ethnicity or travel history. Misinformation regarding coronavirus is starting to circulate on social media. We encourage students, staff and their families to refer to official sources. In B.C., the latest official updates are located on the BC Centre for Disease Control website.”
As of Sunday, Feb. 2, the World Health Organization reported 14,556 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, the vast majority of which are in China, which has 14,411 confirmed cases. The remaining 146 confirmed cases are in 23 nations outside of China, including four in Canada (three in Ontario and one in B.C.).
There have been 305 deaths associated with the new coronavirus, with all but one occurring in China. The lone death outside of China occurred in the Philippines, a close contact of the first patient in that country confirmed to have been infected.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, said the said the risk of spread of the virus within the province remains low.
As of Jan. 30, there have been 114 samples tested in B.C., with one confirmed case, that being a man in the Lower Mainland. The number of people tested is less than 114 as some people have been tested more than once.
Henry said all necessary precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of infection, with experts at the BC Centre for Disease Control having developed a diagnostic test for the new coronavirus so cases can be detected quickly and accurately.
In a joint statement issued last week by Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, it was noted the Provincial Health Authority is responsible for monitoring and assessing the health status of the population, making recommendations for strategies to address health issues and implementing immediate actions when necessary to protect the health of the public.
“The PHO has directed health-care workers to be vigilant and to take a travel history for anyone reporting respiratory symptoms,” the statement reads. “It is not necessary for the general public to take special precautions beyond the usual measures recommended to prevent other common respiratory viruses during the winter period. 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.”
INFORMATION IS A PHONE CALL AWAY
A toll-free phone number (1-833-784-4397) has been established for Canadians to call with questions about the new coronavirus. Those with queries can call 1-833-784-4397 from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.
WHAT IS A CORONAVIRUS?
From the World Health Organization:
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.