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'We help each other': Canadian gov't awaits approval to repatriate citizens stuck in Wuhan region

Last Updated Feb 4, 2020 at 6:50 am CDT

Summary

The federal government continues to wait for approvals to fly Canadians stuck in Wuhan out of China


More than 360 people have died because of the novel coronavirus so far, almost entirely in China


The federal government says 304 Canadians have asked for help in leaving China amid the outbreak


OTTAWA – With a plan in place, the federal government is now trying to get the final approvals to fly into the locked down Wuhan region in China to fly Canadians home.

Foreign Affairs Minister Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne said on Monday that talks continue with the Chinese government.

“The airspace in Wuhan is currently closed so we need special dispensation for our plane to land,” he told reporters. “Furthermore, we need Chinese approval for the flight manifest, and all the documentation of Canadians wishing to leave in order for them to travel to the airport which, as you know, is currently closed.”

The government announced last week it had secured a plane to get Canadians stuck in the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak out.

According to the government, 304 Canadians have asked to leave China, and 280 of them are citizens. A rapid deployment team is on the ground in Wuhan and the aircraft is on standby in Hanoi, Vietnam as officials await approvals from Beijing.

“It is a multi-step process given the complexity of this evolving situation,” Champagne said, adding the health and safety of Canadians here and in China is of the utmost importance. “I want all Canadians currently in Wuhan and their family and loved ones outside of the region to know that we are doing all we can to help them, and to be in touch with our consular officials for further details.”

Before they board the plane, Canadians being aided will be screened by Chinese medical officials, Canada’s federal health minister explained.

“During the flight, Canadian Forces Medical team will complete a detailed health questionnaire to gather traveller contact tracing information,” Minister Patty Hajdu said.

Anyone showing symptoms because of the novel coronavirus on the flight will be quarantined on the plane and masked. Hajdu said if someone is in need of immediate medical assistance while on the plane, they may be taken to a facility in the Vancouver area, where the aircraft is expected to make a refuelling stop.

“They will be isolated to prevent spread of disease, but also to protect them and help them recover,” she added.

From Vancouver, the passengers — who will remain on the plane during the stop — will be taken to CFB Trenton in Ontario, where they will be screened again and quarantined for two weeks.

Hajdu assured the people arriving will be housed in a “dignified manner” while in quarantine.

“I want to remind people that these are Canadians who have been through a very traumatic experience over the past couple of months and in many cases will have significant stressors,” she said.

Canada currently has four confirmed cases of the virus — one in B.C. and three in Ontario.

So far, the health minister has said there’s no indication any of the Canadians in the Hubei province in China are showing any symptoms.

For the time being, Beijing is only allowing Canadian permanent residents travelling with children under the age of 18 and citizens to leave China. Permanent residents who are not travelling with kids will not be allowed on the flight.

Canadians allowed to travel back to Canada who are showing symptoms will not be allowed to board the plane.

“[China] has been resolute on this with all countries, and so I think we have to be prepared to understand that that’s not going to be a flexible point for discussion,” Hajdu said. “The reality is that, obviously, we’re working within their jurisdiction, and I know that Minister Champagne has been able to get some concessions around family unification, but I don’t anticipate we’ll be able to get the Chinese to concede on that point.”

Anyone who is symptomatic could pose a risk to themselves or others if they were allowed to board a flight, she added.

A second flight has also been secured to get more Canadians out of China, as needed. If it’s a matter of a few extra seats needed to get Canadians out, Champagne said Canada has contingency plans in place, including requesting help from allied countries.

Champagne explained there are three steps required in order to repatriate citizens. One is to assess the needs of Canadians, the second is to charter a plane, and the third is to organize the required permits, authorizations, and logistics.

While there’s been no sign any of the Canadians asking for help from the government are sick, Hajdu noted they are asking to leave the Wuhan region because “life has become exceedingly difficult.”

The region is currently on lockdown, trapping tens of millions of people.

“Supplies are running low, many schools, well schools, are shut,” Hajdu said. “Many people might be students or employed there that are not able to carry on in their everyday lives. So the situation in terms of daily life has become extremely difficult, and there’s no light of sight for the Canadians that are there in terms of when that might change. I think that’s a very important thing to remember.”

More than 360 people have died because of the novel coronavirus so far, predominantly in China. Meanwhile, thousands of people, again, mainly in China but also in dozens of other countries, have been infected.