‘The system is on alert:’ A look back at the first COVID-19 case in quotes News Staff

On Jan. 25, 2020, officials in Ontario announced that a novel coronavirus that had sounded alarm bells around the world had reached Canadian shores. The diagnosis of Canada’s first case of COVID-19 marked the start of a period of dramatic economic and social upheaval. 

Here’s a look back at some of the comments in the days before and after the discovery of Canada’s first case:

“The system is on alert, all the things are in place and we’re monitoring. If it’s a false alarm for Canada, so be it.” — Dr. David Williams, Ontario chief medical officer of health, in an interview with The Canadian Press on Jan. 22.

“We’ve seen this movie before. Our infection-control game is better than it was. But we still have this problem with the physical plant of our hospitals, with our emergency rooms, where people are stuck together cheek-by-jowl, and that creates vulnerability.” — University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman, discussing potential risks from the then emerging virus on Jan. 23.

“If a case comes here, and it is probably likely that we will have a case here, it will still be business as normal.” — Dr. Peter Donnelly, then president of Public Health Ontario, discussing the prospect of mass quarantines on Jan. 24.

“There’s no reason for fear because sometimes the epidemic of fear is greater than what is going on.” — Quebec director of public health Dr. Horracio Arruda, on Jan. 24.

“The risk to Ontarians is still low and things are managed and well-controlled. As I hoped, the system is operating as it should.” — Williams at the Jan. 25 news conference in which he announced that Canada’s first COVID-19 case had officially been diagnosed in Toronto.

“The patient has been managed with all appropriate infection and prevention control protocols, so the risk of onward spread in Canada is low. Nevertheless it would not be unexpected that there will be more cases imported into Canada in the near-term given global travel patterns.” — Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, speaking at Jan. 26 news conference held in reaction to the previous day’s diagnosis.

“Be careful, be vigilant, but you don’t have to change your life at the moment.” — Toronto Mayor John Tory on Jan. 27.

“Transmission of the virus is occurring among family members who have close and prolonged exposure to sick individuals. Canadians should not be concerned that they can pick up the virus from an infected individual by any casual contact, such as walking through the airport or another public place.” — Tam, speaking on a Jan. 27 teleconference hours after officials had confirmed the original patient’s wife had also tested positive for COVID-19.

“The World Health Organization’s global emergency status is really … about helping countries that do not have the same level of sophistication as Canada, or perhaps the United States, to protect their citizens if in fact they have a citizen who returns from China who is ill, or has been close to someone who has returned from China who is ill. You know this has been working very well in Canada, because we have actually been able to detect cases very quickly, support those people to get better and prevent the spread of disease.” – federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu at a news conference on Jan. 30.

“If we do not take all the measures that we can take right now to make sure that we eradicate this virus from human populations, then we may end up with yet another ongoing endemic infection like influenza that we will have to deal with every year that causes severe illness and some death.” — British Columbia health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, speaking on Jan. 31 days after confirming the province’s first case of COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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