Canadians and others requesting evacuation from Wuhan, the locked-down epicentre of the growing coronavirus outbreak, face the prospect of being denied boarding and separated from family members because of rules imposed by the Chinese government.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the Chinese government will only allow Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports to board the plane chartered by Ottawa, as long as they are symptom-free. The sole exceptions will be Canadian permanent residents or Chinese citizens who are the primary caregivers for a Canadian minor.
Meanwhile, B.C. officials announced on Tuesday that a second person in that province has tested positive for the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, bringing the number of cases in Canada to five.
The federal government is racing to make final preparations for the evacuation and quarantine of hundreds of Canadians from China.
A total of 308 individuals have requested Canada’s help in being evacuated, but only 280 are carrying Canadian passports. The Canadian charter plane only seats 250, which is also raising questions about whether a second charter will be needed to evacuate everyone.
In Richmond, B.C., Amelia Pan is anxiously awaiting word on her husband and their three-year-old daughter, who are both in Hubei province. Ms. Pan’s husband has been quarantined in hospital since contracting the virus one week ago, while their daughter, staying with a neighbour, recently developed a mild fever.
Ms. Pan said while doctors assessed the toddler and cleared her of having the novel coronavirus, she likely won’t be able to board the first flight back to Canada, owing to her lingering fever.
“It is my hope that my husband should be out of the hospital soon – in six or seven days,” she said. “Then if my daughter’s temperature gets back to normal in the same time, then they should both be cleared to get on the second plane.”
Ms. Pan said she’s worried about unknown problems that may arise in the coming days, but she’s trying to remain focused for her family.
“I’m trying to hold myself up, because I know now is the time for me to be strong,” she said. “They have to depend on me. I have to work on all fronts for them.”
B.C.'s second case, announced Tuesday, is a woman in her 50s who developed symptoms after receiving visitors from Wuhan. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said that woman is now in self-isolation and health officials are assessing the visitors, who were conscious of the outbreak and had minimized contact with people outside the home.
The case is deemed “presumptive-confirmed”; while testing in B.C. came back positive, the sample must still be sent to the national laboratory in Winnipeg for official confirmation.
Ottawa is facing mounting criticism over the length of time it has taken to evacuate citizens and the fact it may not have enough room for all those who want to leave.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that as the situation unfolded, the government didn’t have a sense of how many Canadians would want to be evacuated. Officials believed they would be able to get Canadians out of China on the planes other countries were using for their citizens, Ms. Hajdu told reporters.
“So we weren’t actually thinking that we had the demand that we did,” Ms. Hajdu said on Parliament Hill.
She said she believes that if a second plane is needed, it will be deployed quickly.
Mr. Champagne said Tuesday the government will continue to press the Chinese for family unity and for all those wishing to be repatriated to Canada to be allowed to leave.
The large, complex evacuation mission set to take place this week will require hundreds of protective masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, a team of nurses and doctors, as well as shipments of food, medicine and other supplies once the evacuees arrive in Canada. They will remain under quarantine for two weeks at a lodge on the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont.
The first chartered plane was scheduled to arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday where it will wait for clearance from the Chinese government to enter Wuhan airspace. The plane is tentatively scheduled to depart Wuhan on Thursday, but federal officials said they will update the public once the flight is approved by the Chinese government.
The evacuees will be isolated from each other during the entire two-week stay in Trenton. The Public Health Agency of Canada will provide social support and mental-health services to those individuals, Ms. Hajdu said this week.
“It’s been a very gruelling time for them,” she said.
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