Canadian evacuation in China: What the government is planning

As confirmed cases of coronavirus increase in China and around the world, medical professionals and government officials continue to work on how to move people in Hubei province, while trying to prevent spreading of the virus.

Currently, there are over 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally, with the majority of cases in China. There have been more than 400 known deaths related to the virus to date.

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How concerned should we be about the coronavirus?

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this coronavirus is a global health emergency, but is not yet classified as a “pandemic,” defined by the organization as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.”

"There is a window of opportunity because of the high measures, the strong measures China is taking at the epicentre, at the source,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, according to the BBC. “So let's use this opportunity to prevent further spread and control it.”

There are currently three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Ontario and two in B.C. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says the coronavirus risk is “low” for Canada, in addition to the risk to Canadian travellers abroad, not in China. 

The government still recommends that all Canadians avoid non-essential travel to China.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said that it will likely take at least a year before a vaccine to combat the new coronavirus is developed.

What is the government doing to help Canadians in China?

In a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government hopes to bring people back to Canada from China “very soon.” On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne confirmed that Canada has secured a chartered plane.

“China is being fully cooperative with Canada, there’s just a lot of processes to make sure that they can get through the local quarantines on the say to the airport, that all the proper paperwork is filled out, that identities are verified, and triple verified,” Trudeau told reporters. 

“Right now there is a larger number of Canadians asking for evacuation than there is space on the plane, that’s why we have already got an option on the second plane.”

The federal government has now communicated with Canadians in Wuhan, China, indicating that they will be flown back to Canada on Thursday, according to The Canadian Press. It has been reported that they will only be allowed one carry-on bag and no luggage.

Champagne confirmed on Wednesday that Canadians were scheduled to leave on Thursday morning local time, but has been pushed back by about 21 hours after crosswinds prevented the plane from leaving Hanoi, Vietnam.

When they arrive in Canada, they will be quarantined at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton Ont., for 14 days. The flight will stop in Vancouver before landing in Trenton.

How many people will be coming back to Canada?

Over 300 Canadians have requested to be evacuated from Hubei province, but the plane only has room for 250.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, has said that anyone showing symptoms of illness will not be able to board the plane home.

“In order to get inside the airport, you have to be screened by Chinese authorities. In order to get on the plane, you have to be screened,” Dr. Williams told reporters on Monday.

“We understand from Chinese authorities if you have symptoms, you’re not going to be allowed inside the airport, let alone get on the plane.”

Canada’s Health Minister Parry Hajdu confirmed that Canadians will undergo screening prior to boarding, during the flight and when they land at the Canadians Forces Base.