The Current

Why this Canadian man and his family won't leave Wuhan, despite coronavirus risk

Amid the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, Canadian Wayne Duplessis tells us why he and his family have decided to stay in the city.

Wayne Duplessis decided to stay over fears of spreading virus

Wayne Duplessis, right, and his wife Emily Tjandra in their home in Wuhan, China. (Wayne Duplessis/The Canadian Press)
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A Canadian teacher living in Wuhan, China at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak says he won't be boarding a government plane to fly people back to Canada.

Wayne Duplessis, who lives in Wuhan with his wife and two sons, says he isn't confident that safety measures around travel can adequately protect against infection. 

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak, which has killed 170 people, a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government has chartered an aircraft to repatriate Canadians, and is working with diplomats to organize their extraction from the quarantined region. He said 160 Canadians have requested consular services to date.

Duplessis told The Current's Matt Galloway about why he won't be joining them. Here is part of their conversation.

Why don't you want to get on a plane out of Wuhan, back to Canada? 

My concern is about the nature of this virus. The fact that there's a 14-day incubation period, that we don't know if we are carrying it. We may be asymptomatic for a very long time ... so there is the chance that we could unwittingly infect someone else. You're in a pressurized environment with recycled air.

It's not that we don't want to go. We would certainly like to leave, if the safety measures were in place. 

Wayne Duplessis with his wife, Emily, and their 15-year-old son Wyatt. (Submitted by Wayne Duplessis)

Chinese authorities have said that they won't actually let people who are sick board any planes that are leaving the country. Does that reassure you at all?

Not really. And I'm not saying that to be difficult. We might not know, you might not know unless the test is done. And I know they're getting better at doing these tests.

Can you understand why other Canadians want to leave? They want to be on that first plane, as soon as they can get out of Dodge.

Completely. I mean, you want to blow this Popsicle stand and you want to go home. You've got a baby, you've got young children, you've got a life, you want to get out.

I do not judge anyone in that way. You make the decision for your own family. 

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said Chinese authorities will not allow anyone who may be infected with coronavirus to board a plane out of Wuhan. 1:40

What is life like in Wuhan right now? I mean, this is a city that we keep describing as being under lockdown. What is it like there? 

It is very much under lockdown. I've got two children here. I've got a 15-year-old son, he's our youngest. And I've got a son who is 38. And he's in on the other side of the city. 

We haven't been able to see him since the lockdown. Now, we talk every day on WeChat. But, you know, we'd like to see him, and we certainly want to know that he's OK.

And you can't see him because you can't go across town. Is that it?

There's no taxis, there's no subways, there's no buses, there's no private cars allowed on the road. 

What is that like, to be separated from him? You're in the same city, but you can't actually see him as this story unfolds. 

It's very difficult and it's certainly difficult for his mother as well, certainly for his younger brother, worried about his older brother.

Wayne Duplessis describes a trip to the store in Wuhan, China, where a coronavirus outbreak has put the city in lockdown. 1:10

When you go out on the streets, are there people there or is it a bit like a ghost town?

It's a bit like a ghost town. That's the feeling. It's quite eerie; it's quite quiet. 

For a city of 11 million, it is very quiet now. Most people [who] are here, you don't see them until at night. You see the lights on in apartments across the way.

What are you doing in the midst of all of this to stay healthy?

Keeping a routine, I think is the most important thing. I mean, we're trying to eat as well as we can, but getting up in the morning, making our beds, going to the shower, doing all the things that we would normally do — eating breakfast together as we normally do.

But then it changes, and then, you know, instead of going off to school, then we have to find things to do.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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