The Canadian government began evacuating the oldest and youngest family members of diplomats in mainland China Thursday, as the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus prompted more flight cancellations and growing fears that the worst is yet to come.
Family members considered “vulnerable” are being sent back to Canada, four sources with knowledge of the situation told The Globe and Mail, which is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak about the matter. That includes people with existing medical conditions, those over the age of 65 and those under the age of five. School-age children and guardians are also being sent out of China.
Diplomats themselves are not included in the order, which does not cover Hong Kong.
Canada has an embassy in Beijing, as well as consulates general in Chongqing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
Thursday marked the final day for Air Canada flights from Beijing and Shanghai, after the airline suspended flights until Feb. 29, citing a government travel notice this week advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China.
The United States has also brought home diplomats stationed in Wuhan and has placed its other missions in the country on “authorized departure,” allowing staff and their families to leave the country.
Even though Canada does not have a formal presence in Wuhan, Ottawa is also evacuating 196 Canadians who have requested consular assistance China. The virus has now killed 171 in China and infected 8,163, according to government statistics.
Wuhan and cities around it are in an unprecedented state of lockdown that has placed tens of millions of people in Hubei province in a form of urban quarantine. Travel into and out of the area is heavily restricted.
It’s not clear when the Canadians being evacuated from Wuhan will arrive in Canada nor what will happen to them when they arrive.
The U.S. has temporarily quarantined its citizens evacuated from Wuhan at a military base. Australia sent theirs to Christmas Island, which is near Indonesia. South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia have all said they will quarantine returning evacuees for at least two weeks.
The Wuhan virus is twice as virulent as Ebola and almost as virulent as HIV, Zhang Wenhong, an expert in infectious diseases at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai who is leading that city’s response to the virus, told state media Wednesday.
Early indications, however, suggest it is considerably less deadly than the SARS virus was 17 years ago.
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