A traveller who'd reportedly been to China was taken off an inbound flight from Vancouver in Winnipeg by paramedics in protective masks and equipment Thursday afternoon — just minutes before a Manitoba health official announced there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province.

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This article was published 27/2/2020 (813 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A traveller who'd reportedly been to China was taken off an inbound flight from Vancouver in Winnipeg by paramedics in protective masks and equipment Thursday afternoon — just minutes before a Manitoba health official announced there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province.

While there has been no confirmation from WestJet or health officials that the passenger is infected with the novel coronavirus, there was no shortage of assumptions, including social media posts indicating the flight was quarantined, which the airline quickly refuted.

Advice for travellers

Click to Expand

Self-isolation is recommended for the following groups for 14 days after departing the area, or since their last known contact or exposure.

● travelers returning from the province of Hubei
● contacts of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19
● laboratory workers exposed during work

Self-monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 is recommended for the following groups for 14 days after return to Canada, or since their last known contact or exposure.

● All returning international travelers,
● Close contacts (within 2 meters/ 6 feet) of individuals with flu-like symptoms who have traveled internationally within 14 days prior to becoming sick

Travelers who develop cold or flu-like symptoms within 14 days of returning to Canada should contact Health Links-Info Santé to determine if testing for COVID-19 should be considered. In cases where testing is not recommended, they should self-isolate until they are well.

Information on self-monitoring and self-isolation can be found at:

Novel Coronavirus fact sheet (contains advice for self-monitoring) 
● Self-Isolation fact sheet 

Returning travelers from any of the countries experiencing community transmission of COVID-19 (listed below) who are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms within 14 days of returning to Canada, should be tested for COVID-19. Call Health Links-Info Santé for more information.

Source: Manitoba Health

"WestJet would like to clarify that Flight 448 was not quarantined," spokesperson Morgan Bell said.

All 134 passengers disembarked and should be on their way home, Bell said in an email late in the afternoon, apologizing to affected passengers for the inconvenience.

"Out of an abundance of caution, our crew notified the appropriate authorities that there was a potential medical issue on board WestJet flight 448 from Vancouver to Winnipeg and followed all proper procedures," Bell said.

The airport was notified about the passenger with the medical issue shortly before landing in Winnipeg at 2:16 p.m., said Winnipeg Airports Authority spokesman Tyler MacAfee. First responders were alerted and the other passengers waited for paramedics to remove the person before they were allowed to leave the plane.

The emergency responders cleared the flight with the approval of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Bell said.

Manitoba Health is aware of the situation at Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport but not able to provide "any specific information related to this situation as it could result in the release of personal health information," a government spokeswoman said.

"We can confirm that all appropriate precautions and procedures are being followed," she said, adding public health officials are monitoring the "emerging and rapidly evolving situation related to COVID-19."

Manitoba Health and Shared Health are "co-managing an incident management structure to ensure co-ordinated planning, preparation, mitigation and response," she said.

Bell explained WestJet's protocol in such situations.

"Should a guest present ill or fall ill during travel, our front-line teams and crews are trained to handle multiple scenarios and situations that can arise on the ground or on board our aircraft and have access to real-time support of physicians... when requested," she said.

"We have been closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and have provided proactive communications to all employee groups on effective preventative measures as recommended by the Centres for Disease Control, (the World Health Organization) and Transport Canada."

MacAfee said the airport was not advised to do anything out of the ordinary with arriving Flight 448 passengers.

"WestJet would like to clarify that Flight 448 was not quarantined," spokesperson Morgan Bell said. (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press files)

"WestJet would like to clarify that Flight 448 was not quarantined," spokesperson Morgan Bell said. (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press files)

At a 2:30 p.m. press conference Thursday, minutes after the plane landed, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said there are still no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province, and the risk of becoming infected with it remains low.

He said, as of Thursday, 38 tests have been completed for the virus in Manitoba and none have tested positive. The 12 cases of COVID-19 that have been confirmed in Canada are all in Ontario and British Columbia, he said.

If and when a case is confirmed in Manitoba, the public will be notified and protocols will kick in, he said.

"We would expect to make this information available as soon as reasonably feasible," he said. "We would make sure Manitobans are aware of changes to the risk."

Initial tests take 24 hours at the provincial lab and another 48 hours are needed for confirmation by the National Microbiology Laboratory, said Roussin. Most people with confirmed cases in other jurisdictions isolate themselves at home and do not require hospitalization, he said.

COVID-19 FAQ

Click to Expand

How does COVID-19 spread?

Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:

● respiratory droplets that are spread when someone coughs or sneezes;
● close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands;
● touching something with the virus on it, then touching the mouth, nose or eyes before handwashing.

What are the symptoms?

People with COVID-19 may have few to no symptoms.  Of those who have symptoms, many are similar to a cold or flu.

Symptoms have included:

● fever
● cough
● difficulty breathing
● pneumonia in both lungs

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus.

How can I protect myself?

You can stay healthy and prevent the spread of infections by:

● washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
● avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands;
● avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
● coughing or sneezing into your sleeve and not your hands; 
● staying home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others.

Source: Health Canada

He couldn't say how many Manitobans are self-isolating after travelling abroad or because they have flu symptoms. Travellers returning from areas of risk receive information at the airport about isolating themselves at home, as do people who've tested negative but have flu symptoms and those whose lab test results are pending, he said. But, so far no one has been "directed" by Manitoba Health to isolate themselves, he said.

The chief public health officer wouldn't confirm that any Canadians who were airlifted from China earlier this month then quarantined for 14 days at CFB Trenton in Ontario were released to Manitoba.

"It doesn't seem like it's a worthwhile endeavour," Roussin said, since none of them tested positive and don't pose any public risk.

Roussin said Winnipeggers who aren't acutely ill but concerned about symptoms and precautions should call HealthLinks, not 911.

Meanwhile, Mayor Brian Bowman said Thursday that coronavirus concerns prompted the city to modify 911 call-taker scripts, just as they were for the SARS and H1N1-flu outbreaks.

"As people are calling in with questions, (if) they are presenting certain symptoms, they are just asked more probing questions," Bowman said. "It’s one of the things that we’re doing to monitor and work collaboratively with provincial and federal officials."

The city is preparing for a possible workplace disruption, though no new risks have been flagged, he said.

"Obviously, contingency plans for workplace disruptions just with the operations of the City of Winnipeg (are being prepared for). These are things that need to be considered and have been considered in that past with other infectious diseases," he said.

"We’re making sure that (we) are looking at different scenarios of employees from various departments and how the operation of governments can be maintained."

Winnipeg hasn't been "flagged" for anything that makes it unique compared to other Canadian cities, he said.

"I think it’s important that Winnipeggers know that our officials are working collaboratively with provincial and federal counterparts and they’re actively monitoring the situation and doing what we would all expect them to do."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

— with files from Joyanne Pursaga

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.