Ottawa is going through a “deliberate process” to evacuate Canadians who are stuck in Hubei Province, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says. But the government is not making any details public about its efforts.
Officials are engaging “responsibly” with Chinese authorities on repatriating Canadians, Mr. Trudeau said, adding that he will have more to say in the coming days.
“We will continue to work with the international community to ensure that the threat remains low across Canada, and indeed as much as we can around the world,” he said.
Canada is seeking approval from Chinese authorities to send a plane to the city of Wuhan to pick up the 196 Canadians in the area who have asked for help to leave.
The wait has caused anxiety for people on both sides. As of Thursday, some Canadians in Hubei Province started to receive messages from the federal government about the flight expected to take them home. Several said many of their questions remain unanswered.
Charlie He, 55, is in Yingcheng, a city about 100 kilometres from Wuhan. He said the Canadian government advised him in an e-mail on Thursday to be ready to depart on short notice. However, he said, he needs to arrange his own transportation to the airport.
With strict travel restrictions in the province, Mr. He wonders how will get to the airport without the Canadian government’s assistance.
“The entrance of the highway has been blocked. I cannot go anywhere unless having a special permission,” he said, adding the government didn’t specify anything about the permission.
The e-mail, viewed by The Globe and Mail, says that only those who entered China using a Canadian passport will be eligible to board the plane. The instruction has prompted concerns among parents with young children whose guardians are not Canadian citizens.
Shi Jun’s two-year-old is in Wuhan with his grandparents, who are Chinese citizens. Mr. Shi, a Vancouver-area resident, said he is unsure whether his son has to board by himself.
“My child is so young. What’s going to happen to him if his guardians are not on the plane?" Mr. Shi said.
Global Affairs Canada said late Friday night that it is continually monitoring the situation.
“We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously,” said spokesperson Angela Savard, “and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable Canadians to make well-informed decisions regarding their travel abroad.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s office said it had no new updates on the strategy to bring Canadians home.
On Thursday, Ms. Hajdu said Canada is arranging a non-commercial flight into a country under quarantine with specific protocols, and the government was determining who is coming on the plane and the steps to take after they arrive in Canada.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam would not say where or how long Canadian evacuees should be quarantined – or whether they should be quarantined at all.
The United States put 195 of its citizens under quarantine after they were evacuated from Wuhan to an airbase in California, health officials said. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced the quarantine would apply for 14 days.
Christopher Lan, a professor at the University of Ottawa, is stuck in Yidu, a city in western Hubei Province. He said he also worries about transportation to the airport, as some roads are barricaded.
“Between counties, roads are blocked by concrete boulders. … [People can] only walk now, or use bikes or motorbikes,” he said. “How can we get to Wuhan?”
According to the e-mail, Canadians with symptoms of the virus will not be permitted to board the aircraft.
Amelia Pan said she appreciates the government’s move to evacuate its citizens, but hopes it can act faster.
Her 34-month-old daughter is Canadian, and is in Hubei with her father, a permanent resident of Canada. Mr. Pan said her daughter and husband have been quarantined because her in-laws are infected by the virus.
“The longer our family stays in China, the bigger risks they are facing. … They should soon make us feel secured and take our family home.”
She said her daughter has shown no symptoms, but she is unclear how the government will handle possible cases.
With a report from The Canadian Press