Canadians asking to leave the Hubei province, where the coronavirus was first identified, has risen to 325

This photo taken and released by the French Defence Audiovisual Production and Communication Unit on Feb. 2, 2020, shows passengers being checked as they disembark from a plane carrying French citizens flown out of the coronavirus hot-zone in Wuhan, upon their arrival at the Istres-Le Tube Air Base in Istres, southeastern France.
HANDOUT/AFP/Getty Images
The federal government is still unable to give a timeline for when Canadians caught in China near the epicentre of a novel coronavirus will be coming home as the number of citizens asking for repatriation grows rapidly.
The Canadians seeking help leaving from the Hubei province, where the coronavirus was first identified, has risen to 325, according a government statement on Sunday.
A plane was chartered last week, but the timing and logistics has hinged on finalizing details with China, including the complications of getting Canadians to the airport in the city of Wuhan, where public travel is restricted. Canada lags other western countries, such as the United States and France, which have already repatriated their citizens.
Story continues below advertisement
There are currently 14,557 global confirmed cases of the virus, of which only 146 are outside of China, according to a Sunday update from the World Health Organization. So far 304 people in China have died of the virus, with another 2,110 cases deemed severe. The first death outside China has been reported in the Philippine, the WHO said. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in 23 countries.
As of Sunday, only Canadians with passports, and not permanent residents, will be permitted to board the plane. We try to keep families together whenever possible, said government spokesperson Sylvain Leclerc, in an email statement, and we have raised this with [the] Government of China. Mr. Leclerc said advice and assistance to permanent residents was being provided by consulate staff to the extent possible in the local context.
The new count of Canadians seeking to leave is a dramatic increase from the two people who had requested assistance getting home earlier last week, according to a government official speaking on background. The official also said that current diplomatic tensions between Canada and China have not played a role in delaying the plans to get the Canadians home.
The timing of the flight was not made clear, although Mr. Leclerc said space would be limited, not guaranteed, and likely confirmed on short notice.
For many Canadians, located farther from Wuhan, the drive may be complicated by heavy restrictions on public travel. 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 and Mail, set the deadline for information at noon Monday UTC, or Universal Coordinated Time, which is 5 a.m. EST.
The e-mail confirmed that only those with Canadian passports will be eligible to leave on this flight,” and that, in addition to health screenings by both Chinese authorities and Canadian medical staff, no one with symptoms of the virus will be permitted to board.
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.
Story continues below advertisement
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 a Canadian visitors visa. 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, including if he needs to be quarantined. He cant 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. Otherwise, I dont know who will take care of him
Meanwhile, New Zealand joined a host of other countries, including the United States, by announcing a two-week ban on Chinese tourists to try to prevent the spread of the virus to its border. 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 Jan. 29, Ottawa advised Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China because of the outbreak. The United States has banned non-citizens who have recently travelled in China from entering its borders.
The government official speaking on background said that the number of Canadians seeking to leave Wuhan had grown steadily in the last week. The current total of 325 may grow, give that there are 543 Canadians in Hubei who have voluntarily registered with the government as being abroad.
Other countries, such as Britain, are also flying their citizens out of the region. In United States, nearly 200 repatriated citizen are already back home and under quarantine.
The Canadian government has not yet clarified how long Canadian evacuees will be quarantined – or whether they will be at all. The United States has quarantined 195 citizens from Wuhan at a California airbase. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the quarantine will last 14 days.
Henry Zhou, whose wife is at her parents home in Hanchuan, about 50 kilometres from the Wuhan airport, said he had hoped she would get a Canadian escort. Instead, he said, his brother will drive her, and his family has already provided the necessary documentation.
Story continues below advertisement
She tries to show no stress, but I can feel it, said Mr. Zhou, who is home with their teenaged daughter.
At the same time, he stressed his hope that Canadians will be quarantined in location other than their homes when they eventually arrive back in the country. He worries about how the passengers would travel from the airport, for instance, without coming into contact with anyone. I dont want any risk to the public, he said, adding his wife feels the same.