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UPDATED: P.E.I. chief public health officer asking Islanders to cancel travel

P.E.I.'s Chief Health Officer Heather Morrison delivers an update on the COVID-19 pandemic Friday.
Stu Neatby/THE GUARDIAN
P.E.I.'s Chief Health Officer Heather Morrison delivers an update on the COVID-19 pandemic Friday. Stu Neatby/THE GUARDIAN - Stu Neatby
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —


The Island’s Chief Public Health Officer is now urging Islanders to avoid travel outside of Canada and is recommending a 14-day self-quarantine for all individuals who have returned from travel abroad as precautions related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) global pandemic.

Previously, the public health body had only urged individuals who exhibited symptoms after returning from foreign travel to self-isolate. 

In a media briefing Friday, Dr. Heather Morrison also urged all Islanders to avoid any social gatherings where a 2-meter distance is not possible. Morrison confirmed P.E.I.’s Health Minister James Aylward is currently in self-quarantine, due to a recent work-related visit to Ireland. The measure is a precaution; there is no evidence that Aylward is exhibiting any symptoms of the coronavirus.

The measures follow days of cancellation of large-scale public events throughout Canada and the US in recent days. The World Health Organization began classifying the coronavirus as a global pandemic on Friday. There are currently no cases of the COVID-19 virus on P.E.I.

The latest recommendations from Morrison did not include plans to cancel public school classes following next week’s March break. On Thursday, the government of Ontario announced the cancellation of school classes for a two-week period after March break.

“I appreciate that all of these recommendations have impacts on all of us in our community and in all parts of our system, for families and for staff and how people work," Morrison said.

"But we thought it was very important that I'm clear with these recommendations before people go on March break."

Morrison also recommended restricting contact with seniors and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions for individuals who have returned from travel abroad.

Morrison also said the 811 number, the clearing-house contact line for reporting symptoms of the virus, has been seeing very high call volumes. Twenty-three lines have been added, and extra staff have been hired.

Morrison said public health officials decided it was not yet necessary to close schools. 

"It is something absolutely we will consider going forward,” Morrison said.

"We also want to make sure that because the evidence shows us that the cases in this country are travel-related, that's where we need to make the initial recommendation.”

Asked whether individuals should avoid gatherings such as the Charlottetown Farmers Market, Morrison said public health officials have been struggling with specific recommendations.

"The science is really less about the number of people, although the number of people increases the exposure. But it's really about any exposure," Morrison said.

“It’s about whether or not you can keep a distance, that social distancing, while you’re at that event, in a safe way.”

Morrison said two clinics have been established specifically for COVID-19 testing in both Summerside and Charlottetown, in order to allow individuals to be tested in a location separate from emergency rooms. The clinics are currently staffed by shifts of two nurses each. The location of the clinics is not being made publicly available at this time.

"Some of these recommendations are hard because we know how important communication and interaction and community is for everyone," Morrison said.

"It is hopefully a relatively short-term recommendation that will protect Islanders and protect especially those that can get really sick here on P.E.I.

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