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Canada still assessing needs as U.S., France, Japan begin to evacuate citizens from Wuhan

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: 250 Canadians in Hubei province have contacted Foreign Affairs Canada' Coronavirus outbreak: 250 Canadians in Hubei province have contacted Foreign Affairs Canada
250 Canadians in Hubei province have contacted Foreign Affairs Canada – Jan 28, 2020

The Canadian government has received requests for consular assistance from more than 100 citizens in China amid fears of the spread of a new coronavirus says Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

But he added officials have not yet determined whether to evacuate them.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: 126 Canadians in Hubei province have requested repatriation' Coronavirus outbreak: 126 Canadians in Hubei province have requested repatriation
Coronavirus outbreak: 126 Canadians in Hubei province have requested repatriation – Jan 28, 2020

In a scrum with reporters on Tuesday, Champagne said there are 250 Canadian citizens who have registered with Global Affairs Canada as being in China. Of those, 126 have requested aid in getting out as the new virus continues to spread.

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“We’re trying to assess their specific needs for repatriation,” he said, noting it is currently the middle of the night in China which is complicating those efforts.

“We’re looking at all options to assist them. I’ll come back to you when I have more.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Health Minister responds to new B.C. case' Coronavirus outbreak: Health Minister responds to new B.C. case
Coronavirus outbreak: Health Minister responds to new B.C. case – Jan 28, 2020

The U.S., France and other countries are preparing to evacuate their citizens from Chinese cities hit by the coronavirus.

But Canada has not yet announced plans to follow suit.

Champagne said the government is talking with other countries looking to evacuate their citizens and would not say whether the government was looking at sending an aircraft to get Canadians in need or if it would try to get them home on board aircraft from other evacuating countries.

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Wuhan and most of Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, has been placed under travel restrictions by China’s government as the number of cases in the country skyrocketed to over 4,500,

Global Affairs Canada also updated its travel advice warning citizens to completely avoid Hubei province.

Health experts say the decision to begin evacuations is complex and officials need to balance the risks people face on the ground in Wuhan with the possibility of importing more cases to Canada.

“Our public health system has to be ready do the kind of monitoring required for the people sent back here,” said Susy Hota, the medical director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto. “You don’t just want to pull the trigger … we have to be prepared.”

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READ MORE: Did China downplay the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus? Here’s what we know

Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases, said this decision to airlift people out of the country is made more difficult by the lack of information about the situation in Wuhan.

“We don’t have a great understanding of the epidemiology of the disease,” he said. “When the number of cases are relatively small you can manage things pretty effectively on a case by case basis.”

If Canada were to move ahead with evacuations the individuals would be immediately placed in quarantine, according to Morris.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: CDC says virus screenings in U.S. expanding to 20 airports' Coronavirus outbreak: CDC says virus screenings in U.S. expanding to 20 airports
Coronavirus outbreak: CDC says virus screenings in U.S. expanding to 20 airports – Jan 28, 2020

“Even if they don’t really need to be, I would think there would way to much public pressure to not quarantine them,” he said.

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Health Minister Patty Hajdu weighed in on those concerns in the scrum with Champagne.

She said consular officials are speaking to those Canadians requesting assistance to try to understand things like whether they have symptoms and whether they may have been exposed to the virus.

“We don’t know yet what the situation is of those individuals,” she said.

Here’s a look at the  evacuation plans from other countries:

– France’s first plane to repatriate nationals from Wuhan will leave Paris on Wednesday and return the next day. The flight will carry people with no symptoms, junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri told television channel CNews. “These people will be put under quarantine. And then there will be a second flight, at a yet undefined date, with people showing symptoms.”

– South Korea plans to send charter flights this week to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Tuesday. The planes will arrive in the city as early as Thursday, he told a ministerial meeting aimed at discussing efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

-Japan will send a charter flight to Wuhan on Tuesday night. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the flight can carry around 200 passengers, but added about 650 citizens hope to return to Japan. Motegi said Tokyo is making arrangements for extra flights to Wuhan as early as Wednesday. Those with symptoms such as fever will be sent to hospital on landing at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

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-Kazakhstan has asked Beijing to allow 98 Kazakh students to leave the city of Wuhan.

-Germany will evacuate 90 citizens living in China’s Wuhan region.

-Morocco will evacuate 100 citizens, mostly students, from the Wuhan area.

-The U.S. State Department said it will evacuate personnel from its Wuhan consulate to the United States and offer a limited number of seats to private U.S. citizens on a flight.

READ MORE: What we know about how the new coronavirus is spread

-Britain is talking to international partners to find solutions to help British and other foreign nationals leave Wuhan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

-Russia has been in talks with China about evacuating its nationals from Wuhan and Hubei province, Russia’s embassy in China said.

-The Dutch government is assessing ways to evacuate 20 Dutch citizens from Wuhan, press agency ANP reported.

-Authorities in Myanmar said they had cancelled a planned evacuation of 60 students who were studying in Wuhan.

*With files from Reuters

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