An international mining conference attended by more than 23,000 people in Toronto is at the centre of a new case of coronavirus with the potential for global spread.
A man in his 50s tested positive for Covid-19 after attending the convention, which ran from March 1 to 4. The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada bills its mining convention as the world’s biggest and it was attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Brazilian and Chilean mining officials and visitors from all over the world.
“As we know, that is a massive international conference with many countries represented and many, many individuals there,” Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health at the local health authority in Sudbury, said in a news conference Wednesday.
The northern Ontario city, the centre of the country’s nickel-mining industry, is where the unidentified man went to hospital on March 7 after attending PDAC March 2 and 3. Sutcliffe said potentially hundreds of people from Sudbury attended the conference.
Now the race is on to limit the spread.
“Our focus now is on breaking the chain of transmission to limit the spread of infection,” Sutcliffe said in an earlier statement. “As a precautionary measure, we are asking those who attended PDAC 2020 to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.”
Trudeau, unveiling C$1.1 billion (US$800 million) in aid to buffer the Canadian economy from the virus, said he hasn’t been tested but is following public health guidelines for those who’ve attended large events. That can include monitoring health for symptoms.
Until this week, cases of the virus in Canada had been relatively low, but the first death from an outbreak, at a long-term care home, and a jump in infections has health officials escalating action plans.
A total of 93 people have been infected with Covid-19 in Canada as of Wednesday, and the first instances of community transmission have been identified, with the cases at the care home in British Columbia.
“Following testing, the patient was discharged home where he remains in self-isolation,” Public Health Sudbury & Districts said. “The patient has experienced cough and shortness of breath.”
Other mining executives and government officials who attended PDAC included Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Chilean Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica, Rick Rule, chief executive officer of Sprott US Holdings, top mining officials from Brazil, and the heads of mining groups of the capital market divisions of several Canadian banks.
Public Health Sudbury & Districts said it is actively engaged in follow up and is collaborating with agencies including Ontario Ministry of Health. Toronto Public Health said it was conducting a detailed investigation of the man’s activities and sought to reassure those who attended the conference.
“In general, large gatherings with transient interactions including walking by a person who may be infected Covid-19 or briefly being in the same room with that person are considered a low risk,” Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health for Toronto, said in a statement.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health for Ontario, doesn’t think the infection from PDAC is an instance of community spread, where it’s unclear where a patient gets the virus.
“It’s not like we have no idea where he got it,” she said at a news conference. “We know it was at that site.”
PDAC organisers forged ahead with the conference just as others around the world began to pull the plug on big gatherings, such as the giant CERAWeek energy conference that had been slated to run in Houston. Most exhibitors from China were forced to pull out of PDAC because of international travel restrictions.
The conference stepped up disinfection, with workers wiping down escalator handrails, posted big signs “reminding attendees of hygiene recommendations” and made hand sanitiser widely available.
Given the health concerns, there wasn’t much handshaking going on at PDAC. Awkward elbow bumps were in fashion – for those who bothered to show up – and an air of trepidation permeated the conference floors.
Joanne Jobin, head of investor relations at Vancouver-based Ely Gold Royalties, who attended the conference, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the infection.
“People just need to take a deep breath and self regulate themselves and wash their hands and be cautious,” she said.