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Local officials prepare for potential arrival of COVID-19

There are no cases of the novel coronavirus in Nova Scotia at this time
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Even though there are no diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, officials are preparing for the novel coronavirus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada now considers mainland China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea to be affected areas.

The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, says anyone who has been in any of these destinations within the last 14 days should carefully monitor their health.

"If they develop symptoms of respiratory illness -- so fever, cough and shortness of breath -- call 811, then we'll go through a more detailed screening process and we can arrange for testing," he says.

If you've recently travelled to those locations, but don't have symptoms of respiratory illness, you don't need to be tested.

Strang says a handful of people in the province have been tested over the last few weeks and the results have all come back negative but it is highly probable the virus will continue to spread in Canada.

If that's the case, Strang says most people who contract it will feel unwell but can recover at home.

"The experience in China, four in five people will have mild to moderate illness, but it means one in five people have a more severe illness and they need care within the health care system," he explains.

Strang says there is a cause for concern and the best we can do is be prepared for the possibility of the virus's arrival.

"The most likely scenario is we have a lot of people with respiratory illness, and a subset of those people will require care in our hospitals, but for most people, it's not going to require significant attention from the health care system."

Mayor Mike Savage says preparations are also in full force at the municipal level as officials hope for the best but plan for the worst.

"In HRM, we have our business continuity planning for a pandemic team. We have supplies we'll need for first responders, masks and things like that," he tells NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show. "I think there's very good coordination with provincial EMO and the EMO in the city."

Halifax is set to host some major events this year that will attract thousands of visitors to the region, including the IIHF Women's World Hockey Championships at the end of next month and the North American Indigenous Games in July.

Savage says there have been discussions, but there are no plans to cancel or postpone those events at this time over COVID-19 fears.

"I don't think there's anybody who would say we have nothing to worry about, because clearly this is a huge issue, but I think you take the steps that you need to, to continue to do the events people want to do in the city, with an eye towards always being prepared if something happens," he says.

The Port of Halifax is also watching the evolving situation as it prepares for the 2020 cruise ship season.

With 203 scheduled vessel calls and around 350,000 cruise guests, this year is expected to be another record-breaker.

The port authority's spokesperson says there are no operational changes planned at this point.

"On something like this, we would take our direction from the Public Health Agency of Canada, and then we'll act appropriately as the situation continues to evolve," Lane Farguson says.

He says, if and when there is a report of a passenger infected with the virus on an incoming ship, the port will follow whatever protocols are established by health officials, just like they do when there's a gastrointestinal illness circulating on board.

"They would provide advice on what that vessel is allowed to do," Farguson explains. "Whether it would be allowed to come into port, whether it would berth at anchorage."

"These are hypotheticals, but there's a number of different possibilities that could take place, and you can be sure that the Public Health Agency of Canada is closely watching and developing the appropriate response."

Meanwhile, the province's health minister is asking Nova Scotians to turn to credible sources of information in this time of caution.

"The province has a website, novascotia.ca/coronavirus, which provides updated information as to the status," said Randy Delorey. "Again, no instances are known in Nova Scotia, but we do recognize the expanded distribution of the virus across the world does have us moving to the next level of preparedness."

Nova Scotians are being encouraged to:

  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer
  • cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue (throw the tissue away)
  • limit contact with others when you're sick
  • limit touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • don't share items that may have saliva on them like utensils and bottles/glasses
  • clean surfaces like taps, doorknobs, and countertops often

Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana & lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the community editor for HalifaxToday.ca.
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