New Brunswick

Fredericton man stranded near virus-stricken Wuhan hoping Ottawa will bring his family home

A Fredericton man trapped with his family in China near the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak is pleading with the Canadian government to bring them home.

New Brunswick announces its limited reporting policy to only confirmed cases

A courier delivers supplies to the Wuhan Union Hospital on Wednesday in Hubei Province, Wuhan, China. Due to a transit shutdown and lack of supplies because of the coronavirus, couriers have become the city's suppliers. (Getty Images)

A Fredericton man trapped with his family in China near the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak is pleading with the Canadian government to bring them home.

Mike Schellenberg, his wife and their one-year-old son have been hunkered down for the past two weeks at his in-laws' home about 45 kilometres from Wuhan. 

The area is under "total lockdown," he said Wednesday. Food supplies are low and there are no masks or hand sanitizers available, a troubling prospect for people trying to feed and protect themselves. 

Schellenberg is especially concerned that he remove his son from a potentially deadly situation.

The virus has killed more than 130 people and infected more than 6,000 others — nearly all in China. Cases of the respiratory illness have been detected in 18 countries, including three in Canada.

The Chinese government suspended plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million, and closed roads in an effort to contain the outbreak. The lockdown has expanded to 17 cities with more than 50 million people.

"I've got a very young son here, so our biggest worry is him getting sick whether it's the coronavirus or not because it's really too risky to take him to a hospital here because it's a high probability of infection at a hospital," Schellenberg told Information Morning Fredericton.

As tension mounts, he described his frustration at seeing other countries begin repatriating their citizens. He said he's spoken to the Canadian consulate about leaving the country but hasn't received a straight answer about if or when that will happen. 

"It's more or less been the same thing, 'When we know, you'll know.' A lot of, 'We don't know,'" he said.

Canada responds

In an announcement after CBC News spoke to Schellenberg, federal Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Ottawa has secured a charter aircraft to bring home Canadians trapped in the lockdown. 

But it could be several days before the transport is arranged as the government works with Chinese officials to extract citizens from the affected region.

"We have to work with the Chinese authorities to deal with the logistical side of things," Champagne said.

Canada has also cut the number of consular staff in China because of the virus. The minister said 160 Canadians have requested consular services to date.

Bad timing

Schellenberg said his family was stranded after encountering a bit of misfortune.

He, a Canadian citizen, and his wife, a Chinese national with a Canadian visa, had planned on returning to Fredericton so he could begin earning a teaching degree. They planned on arriving before Christmas, but there were complications with their son's visa, which delayed their trip.

He said his wife's parents had stocked up on food, so they haven't struggled on that front, but he's not sure how long the stores will last.

Asked about the possibility of quarantine upon repatriation, Schellenberg said: "I'd rather be stuck in Canada than stuck here."

Update from province's top doc

Meanwhile, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said Wednesday the Canadian public will only be informed of confirmed cases. 

Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters the decision to limit reporting practices — the province reported suspected cases during the 2019 measles outbreak — was made in concert with public health officials across Canada.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick chief medical officer of health, speaks to the media Wednesday about the latest on the coronavirus. No cases have been confirmed in the province. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Russell said her office will only report cases confirmed by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

"Maintaining that consistency of communicating that information is really, really, really important because misinformation and social media is a problem and we want to make sure we stay ahead of that by providing up-to-date, transparent information [from] very reputable sources," she said.

Russell said there has not been a confirmed case of this coronavirus in New Brunswick.

"The overall risk of disease spread to Canada is low," she said.

The province established a website with information on the virus and preventive measures.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Kathleen Harris and the Associated Press

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