Ottawa women plead for help getting loved ones out of Wuhan

Two Ottawa women are pleading with the federal government to increase efforts to get their family members and other Canadians out of the lockdown in Wuhan, China.

Relatives trapped in Chinese city at epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

In this Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020 photo, medical workers in protective gear help a patient get out of an ambulance in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. (Chinatopix via AP)

Two Ottawa women are pleading with the federal government to increase efforts to get their family members and other Canadians out of the lockdown in Wuhan, China.

Wuhan is the epicentre of the current coronavirus outbreak. The city, with a population of about 11 million, has been put on lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading, a public health measure the World Health Organization called "unprecedented."

"I'm just really, really worried. I really want [my husband] to come home," one woman told CBC's Ottawa Morning.

CBC has agreed to withhold their names because the women fear their family might face repercussions in China for speaking out.

The first woman's husband is a professor who was on sabbatical in Wuhan when the outbreak began, she said, and the city was locked down before he could book a flight home.

Wuhan is one of 10 cities currently under quarantine in China's Hubei province. Global Affairs Canada issued a statement on Monday urging Canadians to avoid all travel to Hubei.

The woman said she and her daughter have contacted Global Affairs several times asking for help to get the man out of Wuhan, but all they have been told is that he should follow directions from Chinese authorities.

So far the government hasn't indicated whether they will repatriate any Canadian citizens from the affected areas in China, although other countries have made similar efforts.

The U.S., for example, has a flight leaving Wuhan for San Francisco on Tuesday. The woman said her husband contacted the U.S. embassy in China and asked for permission to be on the flight.

"They indicated that if he wants to get on their flight he needs permission from the Canadian embassy first," she said while fighting off tears.

"We really tried everything we could."

Government 'assisting'

CBC contacted Global Affairs for comment and was directed to a statement from Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne from Monday.

"We understand the concerns of Canadians in the region and those of their families and loved ones," it said.

"We are in contact with and providing assistance to Canadians currently on the ground."

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne reads a motion following Question Period in the House of Commons, Monday, January 27, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

But the woman said that the government is not taking enough action.

"I've never [felt] something so desperate, that you don't really have that control and you really depend on your government to do something, but so far there is nothing planned," she said.

"It doesn't seem to be necessary for them."

On Tuesday, Champagne told reporters outside the House of Commons the government is "looking at all options" regarding Canadians in Wuhan, including repatriation.

He said 250 Canadians currently in Hubei province have reached out for consular assistance, 126 of whom have specifically asked to be repatriated.

"We will be doing whatever we need to offer the best consular service we can, but it is a very dynamic situation," Champagne said.

Other countries are taking steps to get citizens out of its locked-down Chinese region. 5:24

Mother in poor health

A second woman from Ottawa told CBC her mother, who's also stuck in Wuhan, has health issues unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak. The woman said her mother is too afraid to go to hospital for fear she may contract the virus.

"It's definitely very worrisome," she said. "Just knowing that she's not getting any help, and she's there by herself."

The woman's mother, who normally lives with her in Ottawa, went to China to visit family but became separated from them following the lockdown.

"I would fly [to Wuhan] if I can, but you also cannot enter the city," the woman said.

There are no specific treatments for the virus, currently known in scientific circles as 2019-nCoV and only identified earlier this month.

It can cause fever and flu-like symptoms, escalating to breathing problems and more severe issues in rare cases. 

With files from Olivia Robinson and Joseph Tunney