TORONTO — It is still early days in dealing with the novel coronavirus, but the relatively low number of cases here is “reassuring,” Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said Thursday.

There are three confirmed cases of the virus in Canada — two in Ontario and one in British Columbia — and all are linked to recent travel in China.

Dr. David Williams and Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, held a routine briefing on the new virus Thursday and said there are no new presumptive or confirmed cases in Ontario. Williams said he would be much more concerned at this point if the province had already seen around seven to 10 cases.

“This is reassuring in a way, but not that we’re going to sit back and coast,” he said. “The system is working. We’re investigating. Individuals of concern have self-reported, are coming forward and we haven’t seen ones that out of the blue show up already quite ill and infected. We’re not seeing that yet, but it’s still early days.”

There are 27 cases currently under investigation in the province, and 38 people have already been tested and cleared.

More than 7,700 people in China have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus and 170 of them have died. The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Williams said the coronavirus does not seem to be much different than regular influenza in terms of transmissibility, and evidence suggests it is not transmissible when a person is not feeling symptoms.

The two Ontario cases are a husband and wife, and since they had both travelled to the affected area in China, it’s unclear whether the woman — as the second case — got it from Wuhan or her husband.

Asked about the novel virus Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned against strigmatizing the Chinese-Canadian community.

“We’ve seen too many instances of unreasonable fears being spread either on the internet or in other ways. We need to know this is a time for Canadians — all Canadians, including Canadians of Chinese origin — to pull together and to lean on each other,” Trudeau told reporters in Brampton, Ont.

Meanwhile, Quebec has no confirmed cases of the new virus, and the chances of it being transmitted to the community are considered low, the province’s director of public health said Thursday.

Horacio Arruda warned the public against wearing masks, which he said “do not constitute, by science, a useful tool for the general population in Quebec, even in the context of a coronavirus outbreak.” Instead, he suggested people practice “respiratory hygiene” by washing their hands and covering their mouths when sneezing and coughing.

If people have respiratory symptoms and have to go out in public, wearing a mask can help prevent transmission, Yaffe said, but it is not useful for the general population.

“Anybody who’s feeling well, wearing a mask is not going to do anything,” she said. “In fact, it might give them a false sense of security.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2020.

—With files from AP

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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