World Health Organization declares COVID-19 to be a pandemic

In B.C. there are 46 confirmed cases of the virus while four people have recovered

Illustration of the coronavirus, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Photo by CDC on Unsplash.com
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By Lina Chung and Kristen Holliday

As the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the international outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic Wednesday, Langara College confirmed it is preparing a contingency plan.

On March 10, Seth Abramson, an American attorney and Newsweek columnist, tweeted a list of over 100 American universities and colleges that are heading to online-only instruction immediately or imminently because of the virus. The list included Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, among others.

“The College has convened its Emergency Operations Centre and is preparing for any eventuality,” a Langara College spokesperson said in a written statement to The Voice. “We’re reviewing all events to be held on campus in the coming weeks and conducting risk assessments as required.”

In a statement to media, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said as of March 11, there were over 118,000 cases of COVID-19 in 114 countries, with more than 4,000 deaths.

He said over 90 per cent of these cases were in four countries, two of which have “significantly declining epidemics.”

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus,” Ghebreyesus said in his statement. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”

As of The Voice’s publication time, there were 46 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia. Four individuals had recovered.

One person, an 80-year-old man with existing health challenges, has died from the disease. The Lynn Valley Care Centre resident in North Vancouver died March 8.

In a March 11 press conference, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, confirmed she has been talking to post-secondary institutions about the importance of taking “community distancing measures.” Henry said she would be having more detailed discussions with post-secondary institutions over the coming days.

“We must all at this time step up our social distancing. This is not forever, but for the coming weeks,” Henry said.

In an emailed statement to The Voice, the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training said the ministry remains in close contact with post-secondary institutions to monitor the impact of the outbreak.

“Institutions are advised to follow their own emergency response planning and remain in communication with their students, staff, faculty and community,” said the ministry statement.

Langara’s latest COVID-19 website update, posted March 10, advised all students, faculty, staff, and visitors who have been to Hubei, China, or Iran to stay home or self-isolate for 14 days.

During the first week of March, Langara’s Food Services began storing single-use cutlery in a box at each cashier’s workstation, only available upon request. Patrick Villarama, assistant director of food services for Chartwells, said the decision was made because of COVID-19.

As a temporary measure to prevent virus spread, Tim Hortons and Starbucks on campus have stopped accepting re-useable cups.

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