Ottawa

Ottawa families evacuating Wuhan relieved to be on their way home

Ottawa residents trapped in Wuhan, China described their relief and exhaustion Thursday, hours before they began their journey home from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

'I’m pretty exhausted. I’m spent. I’m not even thinking right now,' said one passenger

Kai Huang, centre, initially feared he'd have to leave his single mother, Yi Huang, behind in Wuhan, China. The pair were eventually cleared to depart the city and boarded a U.S. flight bound for Vancouver Thursday. (Supplied by Bingli Liu)

Ottawa residents trapped in Wuhan, China described their relief and exhaustion Thursday, hours before they began their journey home from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

One Ottawa man travelling with his two parents is aboard the Canadian evacuation flight destined for CFB Trenton, which departed Thursday afternoon eastern time.

Three other locals took off from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport later in the day: 50-year-old Kai Huang, his 78-year-old mother, Yi Huang, and another male passenger. 

If there were viruses around, I'm pretty sure it's on people's clothes, on people's items, passports.​​​​​​- Passenger

All three were cleared this week to board a U.S. charter flight travelling to Vancouver, which left the airport Thursday evening.

Passengers on the U.S. flight will disembark in Vancouver before travelling onward to Trenton, where returnees will be quarantined at a military base for 14 days.

Permanent residency an issue for mother and son

RCMP program analyst Kai Huang initially feared he would have to leave his mother behind in Wuhan because of her status as a permanent resident.

But a day before the flight, Huang and his mother Yi were given the green light to board a U.S. charter evacuation plane.

"My mother feels very excited," Huang said from inside the airport. "She...can leave Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak."

Huang and his mother were initially due to depart Wuhan two days after the city was placed on lockdown Jan. 23, which blocked travel in and out of the region. 

A screenshot of footage inside Wuhan Tianhe International Airport Thursday, before travellers boarded their flights. (Submitted by Kai Huang)

But while Huang is a Canadian citizen, his mother — who moved to Ottawa in 2006 — only holds permanent residency. 

Huang said he was told by the Canadian government that Yi wouldn't be able to get a spot on an evacuation flight. 

China previously determined that only permanent residents accompanying Canadian children would be permitted to fly out, but Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Thursday that Canada was pushing to widen that allowance.

The thought of abandoning his mother deeply concerned Huang, who said Yi suffered a stroke last year. The Barrhaven resident was worried his mother might need medical attention that would be hard to come by in the shuttered city.

"Her home is in Ottawa. She doesn't have a husband and also she only has one child to take care of her," said Huang, his mother's sole caretaker. 

Kai Huang sent CBC News a copy of a letter he received from the Embassy of Canada in Beijing, which he needed to pass through checkpoints to enter Wuhan's airport. (Submitted by Kai Huang)

The uncertainty ended when Huang finally received confirmation that the pair would be able to travel together on an American flight. 

"My mom is very happy about this and appreciates all the people who [supported] her," Huang said. 

'I'm pretty exhausted,' passenger says

Another Ottawa man, who CBC agreed not to name due to concerns for his family's safety, described how worn out he felt before he boarded the Canadian charter flight with his parents.

"I'm pretty exhausted. I'm spent. I'm not even thinking right now," the man said from behind a white face mask.

He described the check-in process as "a little bit disturbing" because passengers needed to take off their masks multiple times.

"If there were viruses around, I'm pretty sure it's on people's clothes, on people's items, passports," he said. "Eventually those things will infect people if they do indeed exist among the population here."

Flight miscommunication frustrating

An Ottawa woman, who also preferred not to be named, said her husband eventually got a seat aboard the U.S. flight bound for Vancouver.

She said flight delays and miscommunication from Global Affairs Canada about which flight he would be on caused immense frustration for her family.

"We've been very anxious for the last two weeks," she said. "I think everyone is quite exhausted both physically and mentally."

Yukon Lodge at Canadian Forces Base Trenton is the quarantine location for Canadians evacuated from China due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Kai Huang said he plans to read books and exercise during his time on the base. (Alex Filipe/Reuters)

The woman explained that while she wants to see her husband again, she supports Canada's quarantine efforts in Trenton.

"I'm grateful that the government is doing that," she said. "It's safe for the public and safe for the families."

She said that if she's allowed, she hopes to pick her husband up at the Canadian Forces base after his period of quarantine is over.

With files from the CBC's Joe Tunney, Julia Sisler and Ashley Burke

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