By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Monday reported its first death from the new coronavirus as the number of people in the nation who have contracted the disease rose to above 70, officials said.
The dead man had been living in a nursing home, the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia’s chief health officer Bonnie Henry told a news conference.
“We unfortunately have had a death here in British Columbia,” Henry said.
The man was one of two residents infected at the long-care facility with no recent travel history. Henry said the dead man was in his 80s and had a number of underlying medical conditions.
Canada now has at least 71 presumptive and confirmed cases of the virus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, up from 51 on Friday and nine more than reported on Sunday.
Virus outbreaks are especially problematic in nursing homes because residents live in close quarters and tend to have weaker immune systems and underlying health conditions, so infections can spread easily.
On Saturday, Henry said two Lynn Valley residents had contracted the virus from one of the facility’s health workers who had been infected.
“The risk to the general population within Canada is still low, but this could change rapidly,” Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, said earlier on Monday.
In a potential sign of future challenges, Reuters reported that millions of face masks stockpiled by Ontario to protect healthcare workers during a future epidemic have expired.
That raises questions about the readiness of Canada’s most populous province to deal with the spreading coronavirus.
In the central province of Alberta, medical officials said the number of cases had risen to seven from four, all of which were linked to people who had traveled.
The novel coronavirus that emerged in central China in December has now spread to more than 100 countries and infected over 110,000 people worldwide with more than 3,800 deaths.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says it will help people who are forced into quarantine due to the virus. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told legislators on Monday there would also be extra support for the healthcare system.
Canada is also now urging people not to take cruise ship vacations.
Canada is poised to repatriate more than 200 citizens aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which is due to dock in Oakland, California after an outbreak on the vessel carrying some 3,500 passengers and crew.
(Additional reporting by Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Nick Zieminski)