Airlift set to depart Wuhan 'momentarily' to repatriate 211 Canadians from China's coronavirus outbreak zone

A chartered aircraft is set to depart Wuhan, China to bring home Canadians stuck in the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Of an estimated 211 Canadians who were expected to board the flight today following a one-day delay due to bad weather conditions in Hanoi (where the aircraft was pre-positioning to go on to Wuhan), 194 arrived at the airport.

During a news conference today, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the Canadian charter is set to depart “momentarily” and is expected to arrive in Trenton, Ont. in the early hours Friday morning.

He said a small number of people did not show up for the flight because they changed their minds at the last minute. Between this flight and spots set aside for Canadians on a subsequent American flight, two-thirds of the Canadians who want to come home will be repatriated.

A second chartered flight carrying the remaining Canadians will leave Wuhan on Monday, Champagne said.

Before boarding the aircraft, passengers must undergo multiple layers of screening by Chinese and Canadian authorities. Anyone who shows symptoms of illness will not be permitted to board.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke to reporters Thursday in Ottawa 2:26

National defence and public health officials will be on board and will take steps to isolate anyone who becomes ill during the flight.

About 50 Canadians who couldn’t find seats on the charter flight will be allowed to board an American aircraft in Wuhan that is scheduled to leave a few hours after the Canadian charter departs, Champagne said.

Those passengers will land in Vancouver and transportation will be arranged to take them to a Canadian Forces base in Trenton, Ont.

The returning passengers from both flights will be under quarantine for 14 days at the base.

Hajdu said returning passengers will be assessed daily by medical professionals.

“The national microbiology mobile lab will be on site to test any symptomatic travellers and there will be general help provided to all travellers that includes clothing, food, diapers and games,” she said.

Advice for Canadians in China

The federal government is advising all Canadians in China to leave the country by commercial means unless it’s essential for them to be there. Several airlines have suspended or limited their flights to China.

Global Affairs heightened its travel advisories for China after the outbreak, warning against all travel to Hubei province and against all non-essential travel to other parts of China.

GAC’s website has been updated and now states that, for safety and security reasons, Canadians should “consider leaving China” if their “presence isn’t essential.”

Champagne repeated that advice again Thursday. “It’s just common sense,” he said.

There are now more than 28,000 reported cases of the novel coronavirus around the world; most of the cases are in China. About 565 deaths have been reported.

In Canada, there have been five cases — three in Ontario and two in British Columbia — and public health officials say the risk to Canadians remains low.

Canadian officials are at the airport in Wuhan, China, to organize the repatriation of Canadians who were trapped in the coronavirus epicentre. (Submitted by Min Irwin)

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