After health officials announced Monday that the first presumptive case of coronavirus has now been confirmed in BC, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) said it has implemented “additional measures” for travellers, workers, and the “airport community,” in an effort to help stop the virus from spreading further.
“We’re working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) – the agency responsible for decisions related to health screening at Canada’s airports – who’ve instituted a number of new measures over the last week at Canada’s major airports, including Vancouver,” said Robyn McVicker, VP operations and maintenance to YVR.
These measures, she explained, “include additional signage that you’ll see on the way to the arrivals hall and in the arrivals hall, asking that those who are exhibiting any flu-like symptoms have to declare that to an officer when you go through customs.”
In the primary inspection kiosks – the electronic kiosks every passenger has to go through before they get to the CBSA officer – travellers have to declare if they have visited Wuhan, China, in the last two weeks.
Anyone who has “will automatically be referred to a CBSA border officer,” said McVicker. “That officer can then decide whether or not they will send this person to a PHAC quarantine officer for further health assessment.”
As for the airport environment in general, McVicker said that in addition to increased signage, PHAC has assigned more officers at the YVR arrivals hall.
More hand sanitizer stations have been placed around the airport, and there has been an increase in “the amount of cleaning that we do in a number of key locations.”
The airport is taking these extra measures because “the safety and security of our passengers, airport workers, and all the airport community is of upmost importance,” said McVicker. “While we recognize that the Government of Canada has deemed the current threat associated with the coronavirus as low, we recognize that there’s concern.”
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On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer, announced the first presumptive case in a joint statement with Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.
The man is in his 40s and regularly travels to China for work. He was in Wuhan last week on a work trip.
He is a resident of the Vancouver Coastal Health region, which comprises Vancouver, Richmond, North and West Vancouver, along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Sunshine Coast, and BC’s Central Coast.
“On Sunday, January 26, he followed public health messaging, contacted a primary health-care provider to notify them that he had travelled to Wuhan City, was experiencing symptoms and would be coming for assessment and care,” said Henry.
“Following established protocols, the primary-care provider notified the Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer and administered the diagnostic test,” said Henry. “Last night the test came back positive. Public health officials are in regular contact with the man and he is in isolation at his home.”
Henry said the man was “well aware of what was going on in China,” and upon his return home, he voluntarily self-isolated. “So he had not travelled outside his home until he sought medical attention, and he did that with all the appropriate precautions that we’re aware of.”
She adds there are “a small number of contacts, including family contacts.” VCH is following up on them and “is confident they have everybody that has any concern about being in contact with this individual.”
The man was not symptomatic on his flight. “There are no risks to people who are in contact with somebody with no symptoms,” she said.
A second test of the lab results will be done at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, she added. Cases are considered presumptive until confirmed at the Winnipeg lab. The secondary testing will be completed in several days.
Both Henry and Dix say the “risk of spreading this virus within British Columbia remains low at this time.”
Concerns in the travel industry surrounding coronavirus have also led to airlines implementing their own measures, including offerings for fee waivers allowing passengers more time to change their flights to China.
American Airlines has implemented a “special exception policy to (its) travel partners that is now available for mutual customers due to the possible effect from the Coronavirus.”
The change fee waiver applies for travel dates been January 24 to March 31, 2020, meaning that individuals who were scheduled to fly between these days to Beijing or Shanghai now have the option to change flights without having to pay a fee to do so.
Delta implemented a similar policy between January 24 to February 29, 2020, for flights to Beijing and Shanghai, with the waiver permitting customers the flexibility to make a “one-time change” to their travel itinerary without having to pay a change fee.
“Travellers with Wuhan in their journey are being screened by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) upon arrival to New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago-O’Hare, and Los Angeles, in addition to screenings in China. Other US airports are also reportedly screening passengers who have Wuhan as part of their travel journey,” the airline explained in a statement on their website.
United Airlines is also offering refunds to travellers venturing to Wuhan if they purchased their ticket by January 21, and are expected to travel there from now until March 29, 2020.
Additionally, United is allowing for additional flexibility for those journeying to other destinations within China.
The airline also explained that “customers travelling to and from China will need to complete additional health screenings upon arrival and departure.”
The CDC issued a level 3 travel advisory on Monday, its highest level, recommending travellers avoid nonessential travel to China.
It’s not just airlines in the US that are making these changes, however.
Air Canada has also extended a “goodwill policy” relating to coronavirus and flights journeying to Beijing and Shanghai.
“If you are scheduled to travel during the affected period, you can retrieve your booking and change your flight free of charge, subject to availability in the cabin you originally purchased. Otherwise, any fare difference will apply,” the airline stated on their website on Tuesday.
Customers travelling to, from, or through Wuhan also have the option of cancelling their flight for a full refund.
With files from Simran Singh and Emily Rumball