An isolated building at the NAV Centre, a conference facility in Cornwall, will serve as a quarantine site for Canadians returning from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where an outbreak of COVID-19 continues. Local health authorities have said the risk to the public is low. Thompson-Goddard photo

CORNWALL – The federal government announced Saturday that a special facility at the Nav Centre campus in Cornwall will soon become the site of a precautionary quarantine for Canadian passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship currently docked in Japan. This cruise ship has been the site of several hundred reported cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, so the announcement on Feb. 15 caused concern for local residents and politicians.

After a site visit on Sun., Feb. 16 and communications with various federal agencies, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit declared that the risk to the public is low.

“We are all concerned with what we are seeing on the news. It is understandable that people might be worried about the potential of the virus being introduced in this community but measures are in place to protect the health and safety of Cornwall and area residents and Canadians who are returning,” states Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU).

A press conference on Feb. 17 further explained the situation and calmed the worries of key local figures. Speaking at the event, Roumeliotis said, “I’m reassured that we do have a process in place to safely house the repatriated Canadians.”

Here are some key points regarding infection control at the NAV Centre site:

The Nav Centre quarantine site is an isolated facility on the campus with a self-contained ventilation system. The facility is separated from the rest of the public Nav Centre area and is accessible only by an indoor bridge and underground tunnel that are closed to the public.

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said during Sunday’s press event that there will be 24-hour security on the buildings holding individuals in quarantine. He added that the care and support teams will follow strict infection prevention protocols.

The quarantined pas­sengers will be cared for by the provincial Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT), while the Red Cross will provide support services.

A medical clinic will be installed on site to provide health and social services.

Only Canadians dem­onstrating no symptoms of COVID-19 will be quarantined at the NAV Centre.

The returning travellers will be pre-screened in Japan, prior to boarding a chartered flight to Canadian Forces’ Base Trenton. Once in Trenton, they will again be screened for symptoms before being transported to the NAV Centre for a 14-day precautionary quarantine period.

The repatriated cruise ship passengers are expected to arrive in Canada on Feb. 20. There could be as many as 218 people on the flight.

Njoo noted that Canada’s infection control protocols with regard to COVID-19 have been successful in detecting and treating all cases of the virus so far. About 400 Canadians who were evacuated from Hubei province in China have been in quarantine at CFB Trenton for almost two weeks now.

Njoo also explained that COVID-19 is a droplet-spread illness, so it requires prolonged, close contact to spread amongst individuals.

Immediately following the Feb. 15 announcement of the NAV Centre as a quarantine site, Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement and local MP Eric Duncan were critical of the federal agencies’ failure to communicate with local residents and government officials. Duncan stated: “The simple fact that the mayor, city administration, or local Member of Parliament were not advised or briefed before the announcement is unacceptable and has unnecessarily created concerns among many local residents.

“I am very disappointed in the federal government for the lack of proactive communication that the NAV Centre in Cornwall will serve as a COVID-19 quarantine site. This has been an absolute failure from a communication and public relations perspective.”

Duncan later said he had been briefed on the situation and was relieved to hear a press conference would be held to provide information for the public.