Politics

Canada to quarantine citizens evacuated from Wuhan for 2 weeks over coronavirus concerns

Canada has deployed a specialized unit of emergency response officials to China to co-ordinate the logistics of a planned airlift to repatriate Canadians as the number seeking to leave the region where the new coronavirus originated continues to increase.

Plane standing by to bring Canadians stranded in Wuhan, China to military base in Trenton, Ont.

People wear face masks as they fill out immigration paperwork at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport as they prepare to board an evacuation flight for EU nationals in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, late Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. The Canadian government has deployed emergency officials to work out logistics for a planned airlift repatriating Canadian citizens from the region. (Arek Rataj/The Associated Press)

Canadians evacuated from the coronavirus-affected region of China will be quarantined for two weeks at a military base to prevent the virus from spreading, Global Affairs Canada said on Sunday.

The department said the government has chartered a plane to airlift stranded Canadians out of Wuhan, China.

The plane is standing by and will fly to Hanoi, Vietnam, before heading to Wuhan once it receives the necessary authorization from the Chinese government.

The plane will take passengers to the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., where they will remain for 14 days under medical observation. Government officials and flight crew involved in the repatriation will also be quarantined.

"To protect the health and safety of Canadians — both those who are coming to and those already in Canada — the returning individuals will undergo a thorough health screening before boarding, during the flight and upon arrival at CFB Trenton," Global Affairs said.

325 departure requests

The department said it has received 325 requests from Canadians who want to leave Hubei, the Chinese province hardest hit by the recent outbreak.

That's up from the 196 requests Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne reported on Friday.

The increase shows the growing desire of many Canadians to get out of the region, where the number of confirmed cases and the death toll is increasing daily. Many Canadians have expressed concerns about loved ones caught in the lockdown of the area imposed by China's government.

There are at least 543 Canadians in Hubei who have registered with Global Affairs Canada's Registration of Canadians Abroad service. However, there could be more because registration is voluntary.

"The Government of Canada takes the health and safety of Canadians, both at home and abroad, very seriously," Champagne said. "We are taking action to return Canadians home from Wuhan, China, while ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to prevent and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus."

Chinese authorities have clamped down on travel in the central cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, turning normally bustling urban centres with populations in the millions into ghost towns.

China reported 17,205 confirmed cases of coronaviruses as of late Sunday, with the death toll there rising to 361. The world also saw its first case of a person dying from the virus outside China — a 44-year-old man in the Philippines.

In Canada, there are four confirmed cases. Three are in Ontario and the fourth in B.C.

Military to assist repatriation effort

The government has asked the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to help with the repatriation effort, the Chief of the Defence Staff confirmed on Sunday. The CAF will send medical teams to accompany government officials and will prepare a "reception and integration centre" where evacuees will stay upon returning.

Gen. Jonathan Vance sought to reassure the families of Canadians Forces members and neighbours in the Trenton area that the risk of transmission is low.

"My senior leadership and I have been fully engaged throughout the planning process," Vance said. "We have full confidence in the protocols identified, and the measures put in place, to safeguard all CAF members and returning Canadians."

Canada has already deployed a specialized unit of emergency response officials to China to co-ordinate the logistics of the planned airlift.

Global Affairs said officials from the Standing Rapid Deployment Team are on the ground in Hubei to help co-ordinate the arrival and departure of the evacuation flight, but did not say when the plane will take off from Canada or when it will land in China.

Several other countries, including the U.S., Japan, Germany, France and Turkey, have successfully completed airlifts of their own citizens out of the region.

Nearly 200 Americans have already been evacuated, and U.S. health officials ordered that they be quarantined for two weeks. It was the first time a federal quarantine has been ordered in that country since the 1960s, when one was enacted over concern about the potential spread of smallpox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Canadians in Hubei should contact Global Affairs

Global Affairs said space on the evacuation flight to Canada will be limited and not guaranteed, and seats could be confirmed with little notice. Canadians in Hubei who want to get on the flight need to contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa to make arrangements.

The statement said Ottawa has been informed that only Canadian citizens who have entered China with a Canadian passport will be allowed to board the plane. Canadians with relatives who are Chinese nationals will have to decide whether to leave without some family members.

The department noted that only those with a valid Canadian passport would be allowed to board.

It's unclear what kind of plane the government has chartered, and if there are even enough seats available for all the people who have requested an airlift.

"We try to keep families together whenever possible, and we have raised this with the government of China," the statement said.

Canadians who have symptoms will not be allowed to board the aircraft.

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said earlier this week that China has diagnostic tools to determine if someone is infected. Because the incubation period is anywhere from one to 14 days, she said there are "meticulous" measures in place to isolate individuals from other passengers if they develop symptoms during the flight.

Watch: Wait continues for Montreal family stranded in China

Montrealer Megan Millward worries her family of four may not be able to leave China's Hubei province together 4:40

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press