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Aijun Yu, seen here in Surrey, British Columbia, on March 2, 2020, wants an autopsy and has been asking for help with that request from Canadian officials.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The wife of a Canadian who travelled to Beijing in January and died there is desperate for help from the federal government to find out whether her husband succumbed to the coronavirus.

David Zhao’s official cause of death was “sudden,” possibly a heart attack, his wife said. But Surrey resident Yu Aijun said she suspects his death was related to the coronavirus epidemic in China because he was healthy when he left. She said his colleagues have told her he was coughing and exhibiting other flu symptoms days before he passed away.

Ms. Yu, a mother of two, said she wants an autopsy and has been asking for help with that request from Canadian officials, but she said so far, who could help her get the report and when the test can be done are still leaving the family in confusion.

“We all don’t know how dad died, and I can only tell [my children] that dad is with God now. I cannot tell them a cause,” she said.

Ms. Yu said her husband, 57, departed Canada for Beijing on Jan. 13. But two weeks later on Jan. 23, Ms. Yu was informed by RCMP that her husband had died in his company’s apartment in Beijing. Global Affairs Canada soon told Ms. Yu through an e-mail, viewed by The Globe and Mail, that Chinese police excluded criminal activities as the reason for his death and their preliminary assessment was “sudden death for natural reasons.”

But Ms. Yu raised her doubts.

“David’s boss and colleagues are all from Wuhan, Hubei. The company has close business relationship with Wuhan on daily basis,” she stated in a letter via e-mail. “David was experiencing coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, those are similar symptoms with Covid-19 infection,” the letter reads.

The last time the couple chatted online was Jan. 19, and Mr. Zhao didn’t mention any health issues.

Ms. Yu started to ask for Canadian authorities’ help at the end of January to apply for an autopsy, but the back-and-forth e-mail exchanges between the two parties for about a month indicate getting the test done in China would be difficult.

Global Affairs said in an e-mail to her on Jan. 30 that they would send her request to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and ask the Chinese authorities to provide them with the autopsy report. But a day later, a member with the ministry stated in an e-mail that they were told by the Canadian Embassy the request must come from her or the family. The e-mail suggests she authorize a family member or a third party (funeral home) to handle the aftermath.

Ms. Yu explained that her family members in China are aged and given the epidemic in China with travel restrictions, no relative could help. She and her two children – 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son – decided not to risk travelling to China at this moment as well. Ms. Yu eventually appointed Roseates Funeral Home to represent her. However, the funeral home told her they still need Canadian officials to initiate the request with the Chinese authorities.

Global Affairs Canada didn’t clarify whether they would get the report for the family, but said Canadian consular officials in Beijing remain in contact with local authorities to assist with the request for a postmortem examination.

“Proper authorization from a subject’s next of kin or designate must be provided to Chinese authorities in order to request a post-mortem examination. Upon receipt of a complete request, a decision and further action by Chinese authorities could take one to two months,” Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Natasha Nystrom said in an e-mail.

The funeral home told Ms. Yu in an e-mail that Chinese police considered Mr. Zhao’s death as a “non-criminal case” so that they do not require an autopsy. It says, however, it’s Ms. Yu’s right to opt for one.

On Thursday, the funeral home sent her another e-mail, saying it was still unclear whether the Chinese authorities would agree to an autopsy. It says Mr. Zhao’s remains have been sent to a funeral home in Beijing, which “illustrates their suggestion to have the body cremated at the soonest (as they do for Chinese citizens).”

According to e-mails from Global Affairs Canada to Ms. Yu, they too are unclear which authority in China could perform such test.

On Feb. 12, Global Affairs Canada said in an e-mail that a Chinese police officer asked Ms. Yu to specify why the family requested the autopsy, whether it is to find out the cause of death or whether it is to confirm if he died of COVID-19. It says the officer explained that if it’s the former, the autopsy will be conducted in a forensic centre and it’s the latter, it will be the Disease Control Centre to do a medical examination.

But a Feb. 17 e-mail from Global Affairs said the answer still remained unclear.

A spokesperson with the Chinese Consulate-General in Vancouver said in an e-mail Monday they advised Ms. Yu “to seek assistance from relevant Canadian authorities.”

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa said it’s not familiar with the case.

For Ms. Yu and her family, they feel helpless and desperate. “From day one, I just want to know how my husband died.”

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