Ottawa

Coronavirus lockdown traps permanent Canadian residents for foreseeable future

Canadians with family still trapped in China's Hubei province are losing hope of seeing loved ones before the city of Wuhan is released from lockdown — or perhaps ever again.

Ottawan fears she could have seen her parents for the last time

Lisa Yu, centre, worries about her parents, Jianhua Liu, left and Zhiguo Yu, right. (Supplied by Lisa Yu )

Canadians with family still trapped in China's Hubei province are losing hope of seeing loved ones before the city of Wuhan is released from lockdown — or perhaps ever again.

In late December, Ottawa's Lisa Yu warned her parents against staying in Wuhan as rumours about the coronavirus's severity began to surface, but she said they didn't believe her.

When the city of 11 million was placed in lockdown and countries began flying evacuees home, Yu's parents, permanent residents in Canada who also live in the suburb of Kanata, were unable to board either of the two flights Canada sent to Hubei.

"I feel completely incapable of doing anything. I told them 'There is a possibility that we can't see each other for the last time' [if they become sick]. It is a real possibility," she said.

"I feel the window of doing the rescue is closing up. The best scenario I can think of is for them to just stay there until whenever this [passes]."

As of Monday, more than 400 Canadians and their families had been flown to Ontario and are now living in quarantine at CFB Trenton for 14 days to make sure they're not contagious.

The decision to only allow Canadian citizens, or permanent residents accompanying Canadian minors, board the two flights Ottawa chartered home was made by Chinese officials. 

The Canadians under quarantine after being airlifted from Wuhan, China, share how they’re adjusting to their temporary living situation at CFB Trenton. 1:59

The respiratory illness has no vaccine and can have a severe effect on older people or people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Stuck without transportation

Cassie Tao, 43, is also concerned for her parents, likewise stuck in the city and unable to return because of their permanent residency status.  

"I am [scared] more than them," the Coquitlam, B.C., resident said. 

Cassie Tao, 43, said her parents are permanent residents and are now trapped in Wuhan, China. (Supplied by Cassie Tao)

As the number of people infected with the respiratory illness now officially called COVID-19 increased, her parents began to understand the magnitude of the crisis. 

Tao pleaded her parents' case to the Canadian federal government, but they still weren't permitted by Chinese officials to leave Wuhan. Now they're stuck without transportation.

She said she cried when she heard the city had entered lockdown. 

Both her parents suffer from coronary heart disease. Her mother is 70 and her father is 74. 

"It's too difficult for seniors," Tao said.

'No one can help them'

Yu, now in the late stages of pregnancy, said her mother and father are 66 and 70.

Her father had heart surgery a few years ago and is running out of medicine, she said.

(World Health Organization)

For now, Yu's parents are trapped in an apartment, healthy but with no way out. 

"I feel their life and safety is threatened," she said.

"No one can help them. The Chinese government. The Canadian government. No one can help them."

'Almost empty'

Pei Lu, a permanent Canadian resident who has called Saskatoon home for the past eight years, has been stuck in Wuhan ever since the city was placed in lockdown in late January. 

Lu is the only member of his family with a job and the only member stuck in China.

"I need to work. I need [to be] with my family," he said. 

His parents have lent him money to send back to Canada to support his family, but Lu now fears he'll have to ask for more. 

While he has remained healthy through the last 20 days, he's uncertain when he'll be able to leave. 

Outside his window, the streets of the city are almost empty, Lu said. 

People wearing face masks walk down a deserted street in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province on Jan. 28, 2020. (Arek Rataj/The Associated Press)

He calls his wife and two children every day, using the messaging app WeChat. When he does return home, he'd like to acquire Canadian citizenship. 

"I'm sad," Lu said. "[I had] no opportunity to go to the airplane."

With the death toll from coronavirus surpassing 1,350 out of about 47,000 confirmed cases, Yu believes the outbreak proves how incapable humans are handling such disasters. 

"Now I'm just hoping [my parents] can stay in and not get sick," she said.

About the Author

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca