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280 Canadians to be evacuated from Wuhan and then quarantined at CFB Trenton

Pedestrians walk in the Chinatown district of downtown Toronto on Jan. 28, 2020.
Pedestrians walk in the Chinatown district of downtown Toronto on Jan. 28, 2020. - Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents with children will be permitted to leave Wuhan, as Canadian officials prepare to evacuate almost 300 from the virus epicentre.

Once landed in Canada, the evacuees will be quarantined at a Canadian Armed Forces base in Trenton, Ont., for 14 days where they will be held in isolation from one another.

Speaking with the media at a briefing Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the Canadian government is finalizing approval to transport 280 Canadians who have asked to be evacuated from Wuhan.

“They are asking to leave Wuhan [because] life has become exceedingly difficult ... in a city that is under such extreme quarantine,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.

A chartered plane is currently positioned in Hanoi, Vietnam, ready to go once approval is granted to enter Wuhan’s airspace. A second chartered flight has been acquired if needed, as the number of Canadians wishing to leave Wuhan grows.

“The aerospace around Wuhan is currently closed, so we need special dispensation for a plane to land. Furthermore, we need Chinese approval for the flight manifest and all the documentation of Canadians wishing to leave in order for them to travel to the airport, which as you know is currently closed,” Champagne explained.

“I want all Canadians currently in Wuhan and their family and loved ones outside of the region to know that we are doing all we can to help them.”

Who is allowed to leave?

Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, where the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Canada was treated. The patient was released from the hospital on Jan. 31.
Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, where the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Canada was treated. The patient was released from the hospital on Jan. 31.

China is only allowing healthy foreign nationals to leave the affected region, which for Canada means Canadian citizens.

Champagne said Canada and other countries have asked China to consider allowing repatriation of permanent residents.

As a concession, China is allowing only permanent residents with children to leave, as long as the child or the other parent is a citizen, to accompany their children and preserve family unity. 

“We will continue to provide consular assistance to every Canadian and permanent resident and we'll continue to ask for us to be able to repatriate every Canadian and permanent resident,” Champagne said Monday.

Hajdu also confirmed Monday that China is not allowing anyone who is presenting symptoms to be able to fly as part of their efforts to contain the virus, but she said Canada has no indication any of the Canadians looking to leave China are ill.

The federal government is not releasing details on where the evacuees are from within Canada, as the flight manifest has not been finalized. Because many of the Canadians have been living and going to school or working in China, Hajdu added, they may not even have a Canadian address.

What’s the process for evacuation?

“They are asking to leave Wuhan [because] life has become exceedingly difficult [...] in a city that is under such extreme quarantine.”

-Health Minister Patty Hajdu

Hajdu said all Canadians who will be boarding the flight will undergo medical exit screenings by authorities before being allowed in the airport as well as a second screening by Canadian Forces medical staff before being allowed to board the plane.

During the flight, medical teams will complete another detailed health questionnaire.

If a passenger becomes ill during the flight, Hajdu said, they will be segregated in an isolated area of the plane and mass for the duration of the flight.

The plane will stop for refuelling in Vancouver — passengers will stay aboard the plane, but anyone exhibiting symptoms will be transferred to the B.C. medical system for treatment and isolation.

If someone begins presenting symptoms between taking off in B.C. and landing in Ontario, they will be transferred to the Ontario medical system.

The final destination for the flight will be CFB Trenton. Hajdu said it was chosen because of the availability both of coordinated support services and a facility to house a large number of people in a dignified manner.

“I want to remind people that these are Canadians who've been through a very traumatic experience over the past couple of months and, in many cases, will have significant stressors,” she said.

Upon arrival, all travellers will be automatically processed by the Canadian Border Service Agency to secondary screening based on having arrived from the affected area of China where another high-level health assessment will occur.

“Then under the authority of an emergency order pursuant to the federal quarantine act, all passengers will remain at CFB Trenton for 14 days after arrival to allow for a full health assessment, follow up observation by public health officials and support services as needed,” Hajdu said. Social support, as well as mental health services, will also be offered.

Fourteen days of isolation is being required as a precautionary measure, officials said, as is the longest incubation period during which someone might become sick.

If any of the passengers get sick during the 14 days, they will be brought to a local hospital for treatment, isolation and contact tracing.

Following the 14 days, travel information of asymptomatic passengers will then be communicated to their respective provinces to facilitate any further medical follow-ups.

Pending a final health assessment, the government will provide transportation to Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.

It’s not clear yet when this evacuation flight will take place, officials said, as details are being finalized.

No public health emergency in Canada

Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer. - Contributed
Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer. - Contributed

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said as of Monday, there were still only four confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Canada — three in Ontario and one in B.C., and said that a total 126 samples have been tested at the national microbiology laboratory in Winnipeg. Because the situation is so rapidly changing, Tam said she could not give figures on how many samples are still being investigated by the lab.

SaltWire reached out to all public health agencies in Atlantic Canada and was able to confirm that there have been no suspected cases in Newfoundland and Labrador and one suspected case in Nova Scotia that came back negative.

SaltWire was not able to confirm if any suspected cases have undergone or are undergoing testing out of P.E.I. or New Brunswick.

And, despite the World Health Organization and the U.S. government declaring a public health emergency last week, Hajdu said Canada has no plans to do so here.

“Other jurisdictions will make decisions based on a variety of factors, but from a Canadian perspective, we feel that we have the processes in place and that the system is working. So this is not, in fact, a public health emergency given the numbers that we've seen,” she said.

As of Monday, the WHO was reporting 17,238 confirmed cases of the virus and 361 deaths in China. Outside of China, there have been 153 confirmed cases and one death.

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