The Canadian government is putting together a plan to evacuate Canadian citizens in China as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
Speaking with reporters from Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government is working out the logistics as to how and when to bring home Canadians who want help leaving the country, and has a plane lined up to do so.
“We have secured an aircraft that could bring those Canadians who wish to leave back to Canada,” said Champagne, adding he could not say whether any of the 160 Canadians in China who have now requested consular assistance are displaying symptoms of the virus.
The announcement came as the government issued an updated travel advisory for China, urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to the country. A more strict advisory is in place for the province of Hubei, where the government has said to avoid all travel.
More than 6,000 people in China have now been infected, surpassing the number in that country who contracted SARS during the 2003 outbreak.
Countries including the U.S. and Japan have begun evacuating their citizens from Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.
But the city and others home to millions of people are currently on lockdown, with no access in or out of the city.
Champagne said those are among the challenges the government is trying to work out with the Chinese government right now.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu also spoke with reporters at the same scrum and faced questions on whether any Canadians evacuated from China will be quarantined or put in isolation, or if they will be allowed to board the plane if they have symptoms.
“Part of the process now is figuring out what our protocols will be when we return Canadians who wish to come home,” she said.
“Will people be allowed to come back if they’re sick? These are the conversations we’re having.”
Global Affairs Canada also on Wednesday changed its travel advisory for China.
Canadians are now being warned to avoid all non-essential travel to China.
Previously, the travel advisory had been to avoid travel to Hubei province, which is where Wuhan is located.
The move comes after Air Canada and other airlines suspended flights into the country over fears of the virus, which has now killed 130 people.