The territory’s chief public health officer supports a call by the federal health minister for Canadians to stockpile food and medicine in case the coronavirus spreads further.
“The advice by the federal government is prudent because we don’t know how fast the virus will take off,” said Kami Kandola on Thursday.
“We don’t want people to be in a situation where they don’t have enough food at home if they’re quarantining themselves or isolating themselves.”
Patty Hajdu, federal health minister, made the comment about stockpiling during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday. She added that it’s important to be prepared as the situation may change quickly.
There have no reports of coronavirus, or COVID-19 reaching the NWT but Kandola said the outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran show how fast the virus can spread and infect a large number of people.
“Be prepared with food and medications and other supplies. Have enough for 14 days. You don’t want to run out and be unable to find what you’re looking for in case people make a mad dash and all the shelves are empty. You should have the basic supplies on hand. We have this narrow window of opportunity to prepare. We’re in a remote, isolated community. It’s more important for people in northern rural areas to think ahead.”
Kandola said stocking up on medicines is especially important if they’re close to expiring, and that people should also buy items to keep themselves and their homes clean such as soap, disinfectant wipes and sprays, and tissues.
Taking proper health precautions over the next few weeks is essential as the school break of March 16-27 and the Arctic Winter Games approach.
“It’s that two-week period when there’s a lot of travel. We know flu and whooping cough are circulating. It’s really important more than ever that people take basic precautions in case they get sick,” Kandola said.
“If people are sick it’s very important they stay home. If they cough or sneeze they should turn their heads or cough or sneeze into a tissue. Alcohol-based sanitizers can kill viruses within minutes. Disinfectant wipes should be wiped on things you make a lot of contact with. Kids shouldn’t share their food or water bottles. At this point sharing is not caring. If we do that we can slow the spread, at least it won’t hit the health system too badly.”
While Kandola said she doesn’t want residents to make a “mad dash” for supplies, as a remote community dependent on deliveries, Yellowknife and its three main grocery stores could be vulnerable to shortages of food and medicine.
The Yellowknife Co-op supermarket doesn’t yet have a strategy in place in case large numbers of people begin buying supplies, said general manager Justin Nelson.
However, Nelson said he thinks it’s premature to worry about stores running out of stock.
“That would be horrible but that would be Canada-wide, it wouldn’t just be us. We’re a grocery store. We get five truck deliveries a week,” said Nelson.
“It seems people are making a big thing out of this. We don’t have a strategy (yet). I’m trying to process this. We’ll carry on business as normal. We won’t be renting storage facilities and trying to stock up on supplies.”
Loblaws Canada, the parent company of the local Trevor’s and Glen’s Independent grocery stores, and of Shoppers Drug Mart, had not responded to Yellowknifer inquiries by press time as to its strategy in case there is large-scale buying if COVID-19 spreads.
As of press time, there were 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Canada, with seven cases in B.C. and six in Ontario, with no deaths, according to a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) report on Thursday.
The PHAC said the public health risk of a coronavirus spread in Canada is low.
There have been 59 cases in the United States and globally the virus has spread to more than 40 countries, with 82,440 cases of infection and 2,808 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization on Thursday. Most of the deaths have been in China.