Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, makes an announcement regarding a Bill entitled "An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying)" during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday Feb. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prepare for new coronavirus like an emergency, health minister advises

About 81,000 people around the world have now become ill with COVID-19

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is encouraging Canadians to stockpile food and medication in their homes in case they or a loved one falls ill with the novel coronavirus.

That’s good advice for any potential crisis from a viral outbreak to power outages, she said Wednesday.

“It’s good to be prepared because things can change quickly,” she said.

She also suggested people should do what they can to ease the burden on the health care system in the meantime by staying home if they’re sick, washing their hands and getting flu shots.

The virus known as COVID-19 is different from influenza and the flu shot doesn’t provide protection against it, but the fewer people who are sick, the less strain on doctors and hospitals.

About 81,000 people around the world have now become ill with COVID-19, with the World Health Organization reporting cases in 37 countries outside China. There has been a rash of new cases appearing in Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan over the past week, and officials fear the virus could spread undetected in other countries that lack the capacity to monitor people for signs of infection.

Ontario health officials announced Thursday morning they’d detected the 12th case in Canada so far. Each of the Canadian cases so far can be traced to a particular visit abroad.

As the virus spreads to more countries, Hajdu said travellers should recognize there could be a risk if they leave Canada.

WATCH: Minister says consider coronavirus outbreak when planning for spring break

“It’s important that people know that international travel may have exposed them to the novel coronavirus and they may not know,” she said.

The latest advice the government has given to people returning to Canada is to monitor themselves for potential symptoms, no matter where they travelled, and to contact local public-health units if they have concerns.

“As the coronavirus changes and travels across the globe, it’s getting more and more difficult to isolate countries that are more specifically affected,” Hajdu said.

People travelling for spring break should think carefully about where they and their families are planning to go, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

Champagne suggested travellers examine the online advisories posted by Global Affairs Canada before leaving for their vacations, but noted the federal government can’t predict whether the coronavirus will spread to their travel destination while they are away from home.

“We’ll continue to provide all the information so people can make their best assessment, what’s right for them,” Champagne said.

He says it’s also important for Canadians to register with Global Affairs Canada whenever they leave the country, so that authorities can contact them easily if an emergency develops while they are away.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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