Toronto is prepared to handle a coronavirus outbreak, health officials say

Ontario's chief medical officer of health says the city and the province are better prepared to deal with the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in Asia because of experience with the SARS outbreak.

"Through SARS and through all the work later, we have set in place standard policies and procedures," said Dr. David Williams during an update on Toronto's preparedness Friday morning.

"We're light years ahead of where we were in 2003."

The SARS outbreak in 2003 killed 44 people in the GTA and infected hundreds more.

Williams said while there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Canada, he believes it's just "a matter of where and when."

CEO of Public Health Ontario, Dr. Peter Donnelly, said the province has testing that lets medical professionals know within 24 hours whether an illness is this new coronavirus type.

Donnelly says an unspecified number of patients have already been tested. All of them turned out to have the flu, previously-known versions of coronavirus or other illnesses.



He adds if there is a confirmed case, Toronto will not go into lockdown like the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.

"The city will still be functioning, the province will still be functioning normally ... it's why Public Health Ontario exists."

Risk remains low

Toronto's chief public health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa, also reassured the public that overall risk remains low in Canada.

But with increased travel expected during Lunar New Year festivities this weekend, she says the city is keeping a close eye on the situation.

Vedran Lesic/CBC

"We do know that Toronto's Pearson Airport is an international travel hub. I think it's important that you know we are actively monitoring the situation with our federal and provincial health partners," she said.

De Villa promised quick updates if the virus reaches the city.

Twenty-six people have died from the virus so far, with the number of cases now at more than 800.

China announced it is building a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan dedicated to patients who are infected.

Authorities are aiming to have the facility finished by Wednesday.