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Ontario Public Health Holds Press Conference on COVID-19

TORONTO — On March 12, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto Medical Officer of Health, held a press conference in Toronto to provide updates on COVID-19.

Of particular focus was the recent announcement that a Sudbury, Ont. man in his 50s had tested positive for the virus after attending a conference in Toronto. The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference, held March 2 and 3, had 23,000 attendees from multiple countries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan.

While the case is thought to be the first incidence of community spread, Yaffe said they’re not treating the case as an instance of community spread since his infection can likely be traced to the conference.

“To me, this is not a case of community transmission,” Yaffe said. “To me a case of community transmission would be a case where there is no travel history and you don’t have any epidemiological link to another case; that is, you don’t have any idea where they got it.

“With this person, it is likely he got it at that conference. There were 23,000 people from many, many countries. Although the risk in general is low, it seems that’s probably where he got it. We can’t say exactly from whom, but to me it’s linked to a particular activity at a particular site, so it’s not a community transmission.”

“While the Public Health investigation is ongoing, it’s known that on March 2 and 3, this individual attended the PDAC 2020 convention in Toronto. Public Health Sudbury & Districts is actively engaged in follow up and is collaborating with the Ministry of Health and the local health system,” Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury & Districts, told Sudbury.com.

The man was discharged from hospital and remains at home in self-isolation. As a precaution, the province is asking everyone who attended PDAC to self-monitor for respiratory and other flu symptoms.

Yaffe and de Villa fielded a number of questions regarding whether the city should be cancelling conferences and large gatherings.

“Decisions around event attendance and travel should still be made on a case-by-case basis,” said de Villa, adding there’s no “simple answer” to whether events should be cancelled or not.

They stressed that, no matter what your plans, everyone should practice frequent hand-washing, cover their mouths if they sneeze and stay home if they feel ill.

For those planning to hold or attend large gatherings such as conferences, Yaffe and de Villa said they should refer to the guidelines sent out this week by the federal government for assessing whether or not to continue with or modify an event.

Earlier this week, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) released research showing the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to impact the global business-travel industry, with companies cancelling meetings and instituting blanket business-travel cancellations. Its survey of more than 1,000 member companies throughout the world revealed almost one in five (18 per cent) companies has cancelled or suspended “all” or “most” travel to North America — up from two per cent 10 days earlier. Half (51 per cent) of GBTA members report their company has canceled or suspended “all” or “most” business travel to Europe — up from eight per cent 10 days ago.

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