But Canada’s chief public health officer says the risks to most people who may have passed by the man in the airport or on the airplane is low

People wear masks as a precaution due to the coronavirus outbreak as they wait for the arrivals at the International terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
The Toronto man infected with the countrys first case of the novel coronavirus was symptomatic on an airplane returning to Canada from China last week, meaning other passengers could have potentially been exposed to the illness.
However, Theresa Tam, Canadas chief public health officer, said the risks to most people who may have passed by the man in the airport or on the airplane is low. According to scientific evidence, the coronavirus is spread by droplets, so the people who face the highest risk of infection would be those in close contact with the infected individual for prolonged periods of time, she said.
People transmit when theyre in close contact, Dr. Tam said.
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Federal, provincial and local health officials are now racing to identify and contact individual passengers to speak to them about the risks and to take precautions. Passengers who were seated within a two-metre radius of the patient will be contacted, Dr. Tam said.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said that most respiratory infections are passed between people in close proximity. On an airplane, for instance, that could mean people who are seated next to the infected individual.
The patient, a man in his 50s who had recently travelled to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, landed at Torontos Pearson Airport on Wednesday. He flew to Toronto from Guangzhou on China Southern Airlines flight CZ311 on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The next day, he called 911 after he began to feel ill. He informed the dispatcher of his symptoms and his travel history, which allowed paramedics and hospital officials to take the proper precautions, such as wearing masks, eyeglasses and gowns.
Since then, the man has been in isolation at Torontos Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
Dr. Tam said that passengers who do not receive a phone call from public health authorities do not need to take precautions.
Public Health Ontario tested samples from the man and on Saturday, confirmed he has the coronavirus. Now, Canadas National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg is also testing the samples to confirm the results. The findings are expected within the next 24 hours.
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China first alerted the World Health Organization of the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, on Dec. 31. The situation has evolved rapidly since then. Chinese authorities released a genotype of the virus, which has allowed public health officials around the world to develop diagnostic tests to identify potential cases of 2019-nCoV. The number of cases has also risen quickly, with nearly 2,000 cases and 56 deaths. The vast majority of illnesses and deaths are in China, but the virus has also spread around the world, with eight cases in Thailand, three cases in the U.S. and three in France.