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U of T takes steps to protect and inform community members during coronavirus outbreak

(photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

The University of Toronto is working to keep members of the community safe and informed as the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak unfolds.

In addition to monitoring the situation closely, U of T is working with students through the Safety Abroad Office and has reached out to all students registered with the office who are in China, which has emerged as the epicentre of the outbreak.

The university has also established a steering group of senior administrators, including leaders who responded to the SARS crisis in 2003, and has set up working groups to co-ordinate U of T’s response across its three campuses. 

“The University of Toronto is taking this very seriously and is receiving directions from public health officials, who continue to indicate that the risk in Canada is low,” said Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students. 

“As always, we urge the U of T community to follow good hygiene practices, including washing hands and avoiding contact with others when sick.”

Welsh also addressed concerns about stigmatization and discrimination. 

“It's vitally important that all members of the U of T community feel respected, welcome and supported on our campuses,” she said. “Assessment of risk should be based on travel and exposure history – not on race or ethnicity.”

More than 8,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported worldwide, mostly in mainland China. In Canada, meanwhile, three cases have been confirmed in Ontario – two women and a man who recently returned to Toronto from Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have originated – and one case has been confirmed in B.C. 

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” with WHO Director-General Tedro Adhanom Ghebreyesus explaining that, “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it."  

U of T is actively monitoring the assessments of health agencies and travel advisories, as well as news reports. The Canadian government has issued an advisory warning against non-essential travel to China due to the virus, and says to avoid all travel to China’s Hubei province.

The university will continue to update the community as the situation changes via its home page, as well as through the usual communication channels, including social media channels.

U of T has published a frequently asked questions page on the coronavirus that explains the risks, symptoms and what to do if you experience flu-like symptoms. Those who experience symptoms and have travelled to an affected region are advised to contact a health-care professional or their nearest hospital.

The university is working with its hospital partners to ensure that students who do some of their learning in hospitals or other health-care settings are appropriately protected. U of T is in close contact with family medicine leaders to ensure primary care practitioners are receiving appropriate communication and resources. U of T is co-ordinating its messages and activities with affiliated hospitals and its three campus health centres.

U of T Communications is working to facilitate the media’s access to infectious disease experts who can provide useful information to the public. They include: Allison McGeer, a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and the director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital; and Isaac Bogoch, an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine and a clinician investigator with the University Health Network. 

U of T also plans to send information to students in residences and is preparing slides for instructors that discuss prevention and provide links to trusted sources of information. 

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