Health officials in B.C. are telling the public there’s no cause for alarm after the sixth and seventh cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus were confirmed in the past week, both connected to transmission in Iran.
The news comes in a week when Iran is emerging as one of the new global hot spots of the illness, with cases there surging – as well as in other countries like South Korea and northern Italy – even as the number of cases appears to be levelling off in China.
The sixth case of COVID-19 was identified late last week in a woman in her 30s from the Fraser Health Region who had recently returned from Iran via a flight from Montreal to Vancouver. One of her close contacts, a man in his 40s, also from the Fraser Health Region, became the seventh coronavirus case confirmed in B.C.
Both the woman and man are in stable condition in isolation at home and are being monitored by public health, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s medical health officer.
Henry said all close contacts of the woman who travelled from Iran, including both those she may have come into contact with on the airplane and those in the community, have been contacted by health authorities.
So far there have been no additional people who have shown any symptoms, said Henry.
Henry said the woman wore a face mask for some of her flight but not for all of it. Health authorities took that into account when deciding who to contact, said Henry.
The woman in B.C. who contracted coronavirus through a contact in Iran represented an “indicator” of something new happening in the spread of the epidemic, Henry said.
Previously, the vast majority of cases were linked to contacts at the centre of the epidemic outbreak in Wuhan, China.
But “the global situation is evolving very rapidly and we have heard over the weekend of the dramatic increase in numbers of cases in a number of countries,” said Henry.
By Tuesday, Iranian state officials had confirmed at least 95 people had tested positive for the virus, including the top health official in charge of containing the virus, as well as 15 deaths.
But reports of the number of people ill from COVID-19 in the country appeared contradictory, and some experts feared the numbers may be much higher.
Henry said health officials here are not considering closing borders, the way some countries have in an effort to stop the spread of the illness. “Closing borders has never been shown to be effective,” she said.
Health officials are also not recommending that social gatherings be cancelled, but do advise anyone feeling sick to stay away from them.
Anyone feeling sick who has recently travelled internationally should stay home, monitor symptoms and get in touch with health authorities, she said.
So far, about 700 people have been tested for the virus in B.C., which has helped to identify cases early and prevent further spread, she said.
The good news is that most of the initial cases in B.C. have either recovered or are close to recovering, said Henry.
She also defended health authorities’ need to keep identifying information about those who test positive private, telling media if people are identified and possibly targeted by the public, others who may suspect they are ill will be reluctant to come forward.
“We want people to come forward and engage with us,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday. “We want people to get well.”