Canadians evacuated from China near the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak will be quarantined for 14 days at a Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., Global Affairs said Sunday.
The number of Canadian citizens asking for repatriation from the Hubei province, where the coronavirus was first identified, has grown to 325 in the past week, but there is still no clear timeline for when they will return home. The government statement said that Ottawa was in the process of sorting out the “necessary authorization” to land a chartered plane at the airport in the city of Wuhan.
The chartered plane will land in Hanoi, Vietnam, and then fly to Wuhan. But the timing and logistics still hinge on finalizing details with China, including the complications of getting Canadians to the Wuhan airport, in a region of the country where public travel is restricted.
There are currently more than 17,000 global cases confirmed of the virus, according to the Chinese National Health Commission, and so far 361 have died in the country. According to the World Health Organization, there are 146 cases outside of China, and the first death outside of China has been reported in the Philippines. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in 23 countries.
As of Sunday, China is only permitting people with Canadian passports, not permanent residents to board the plane. “We try to keep families together whenever possible,” Canadian government spokesperson Sylvain Leclerc said, “and we have raised this with the government of China.”
Mr. Leclerc said “advice and assistance” was being provided to permanent residents by consulate staff.
The new count of Canadians seeking to leave is a dramatic increase from the two people who had requested assistance getting home as of Jan. 27, according to a government official. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The official also said that current diplomatic tensions between Canada and China have not played a role in any delay to get the Canadians home.
Mr. Leclerc said space on the flight would be limited and not guaranteed, and details would likely be confirmed on short notice.
An e-mail sent out late Saturday night to Canadians asking to leave the region, stated that they would have to secure their own transportation to the airport, and requested documentation regarding the vehicle and driver who would take them. The e-mail, viewed by The Globe, set the deadline for information at noon Monday Coordinated Universal Time, which is 7 a.m. EST.
The e-mail also said travellers would be screened by both Chinese and Canadian medical staff, and no one with symptoms of the virus would be permitted to board.
Once in Canada, Global Affairs said, those in quarantine who need medical attention will be transferred into the health system.
Other countries, such as Britain, Australia and the United States, are also flying their citizens out of the region. In the U.S., nearly 200 repatriated citizens are already back home and under quarantine. The U.S. has quarantined 195 citizens from Wuhan at a California air base, also for 14 days.
The fact that the plane will not take permanent residents has raised concerns among families, some of whom have spouses or parents who may be left behind in the Hubei province, as well as a least two cases involving toddlers travelling with guardians who do not have Canadian passports.
In Vancouver, Shi Jun is still awaiting word on what special provisions will be made for his two-year-old son who travelled with his grandparents to Wuhan for the Lunar New Year celebrations before the family was aware of the virus. His parents are Chinese residents, he said, who have Canadian visitor’s visas. He has been in contact with government officials, who have asked for his parents’ documentation, but he is concerned about who will take responsibility for his son on the long flight or during the quarantine.
“He can’t even keep a mask on by himself,” he said, still hoping that despite the rules, at least one of his parents will get on the flight.
Amelia Pan is in a similar situation in Toronto. Her husband, who is a permanent resident, travelled back to China with their three-year-old daughter because his father was dying. When her husband became infected with the virus, her daughter was put in quarantine, but has not developed any symptoms. Her husband is now recovering in hospital, Ms. Pan said. Meanwhile, she has arranged for a friend who will also be on the plane to serve as her daughter’s temporary guardian – the complication is that since they are travelling long distances to Wuhan, Ms. Pan is trying to ensure they both get seats on the plane and can make the trip to catch the flight in time.
“The Canadian government is saying they are putting together a jigsaw, and I feel I am doing the same thing,” says Ms. Pan, who gives credit to the government staff for doing their best to help her. “This is the most difficult crisis I have encountered. ... My life is on standstill without my daughter.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand joined a host of other countries, including the U.S., by announcing a two-week ban on Chinese tourists to try to prevent the spread of the virus. New Zealand has yet to report a case of infection, even as countries around the world continued to announce new cases this weekend, including four now confirmed in Canada. On Wednesday, Ottawa advised Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China.
The current total of 325 Canadians requesting evacuation may grow, given that there are 543 Canadians in Hubei who have registered with the Canadian government.
Henry Zhou, whose wife is at her parents’ home in Hanchuan, about 50 kilometres from the Wuhan airport, is worried about her journey to the airport. His brother will drive her, and his family has already provided the necessary documentation.
“She tries to show no stress, but I can feel it,” said Mr. Zhou, who is home with their teenaged daughter.
He also said that his wife and a group of Canadians he’s communicating with in Hubei, had hoped to be quarantined in location other than their homes when they eventually arrive back in the country. They want to ensure their return poses no risk to public safety, he said.