Passengers cheered as the plane ferrying them from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, touched down in Vancouver. From there, it was on to Ontario to a processing hangar at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where Welcome Home banners had been hung along a metal fence and Red Cross workers waited to greet them.
"It’s been quite a journey,” said Christopher Lan, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, who was travelling with his wife and adult son. People “are a little tired, but relieved to be home.”
While a group of Canadians settled wearily on Friday into one of 290 rooms for a two-week quarantine at the Yukon Lodge on the military base, others still wait anxiously for word of loved ones who remain in China’s Hubei province.
In Windsor, Ont., Joy Li is still hoping for word about when her parents, both 80, might be able to leave Wuhan. Her parents, who live in a seniors’ residence in Windsor to be near their adult children, are permanent residents in Canada, so they weren’t permitted by the Chinese government to take the first flights back to Canada. They travelled to China in December to visit with friends during the Lunar New Year, and were caught in the lockdown in the city of Wuhan, before they could travel home in late January.
Ms. Li said her parents are staying on their own in an apartment on a university campus, a residence available to her father who is a former professor. But they have no access to the internet, have already run out of some medications and are close to running out of food. Their friends, Ms. Li said, are unable to visit them because it is so difficult to get around Wuhan.
“Everybody is living in their own house, and can’t go outside,” she said. “It is very hard to help them.”
Ms. Li said she has been on the phone with government officials, hoping to get her parents on a second Canadian flight due to depart on Feb. 10. She worries what will happen if they contract the virus at their age. She has her suitcase packed in case she can find a way to travel to Wuhan, but Ottawa has advised citizens not to venture to Hubei and to avoid non-essential travel to the rest of China.
When she thinks of her parents there alone, and in potentially worsening conditions, Ms. Li said, “I am heartbroken. They tell me to wait … but for my parents, this may be life and death.”
The Hubei health commission website reported 82 new deaths and 2,841 new cases in the province, taking the mainland China totals to more than 700 deaths and over 34,000 infections.
The first Canadian-bound flight from China carried 176 people, including many children, with another 39 travelling hours later on a plane chartered by the U.S. government.
At CFB Trenton, the passengers are to stay in quarantine for 14 days to prevent any potential spread of the virus if a passenger should develop symptoms after leaving China.
On Thursday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu suggested the quarantine period could get stressful, particularly since people won’t be able to leave their rooms, receiving meals delivered by the military. “Individuals will have to find ways to occupy themselves with very little movement on the base,” Ms. Hajdu said.
But they are at least back in Canada.
Monte Gisborne, in Coquitlam, B.C., is still hoping the Canadian government will help his wife, Danni Luo (Daniela), and nine-year-old daughter, Qinlin Li (Dominica), return from Wuhan. Since both are permanent residents – and not Canadian citizens – they weren’t able to get a seat on either of the first two planes, and remain trapped in a condo near downtown Wuhan, with Ms. Luo’s parents.
Mr. Gisborne said the family was lucky they had stocked the cupboards with goods for the Lunar New Year festivities, but even so, every couple days, his wife’s father takes his electric bike and visits a market that social media has identified as “safe" from the virus.
His wife told him they have heard that local authorities are checking on residents for signs of a fever, and for possible placement in quarantine, but she is trying to hide the stress of their situation from their daughter, Dominica, who is doing school work online and practising piano on a roll-up keyboard her mom purchased.
“It is scary,” said Mr. Gisborne, expressing frustration that permanent residents have not received the same level of government support as citizens. “I just want to see their smiling faces.”
With a report from Reuters