The Canadian government is offering aid to China to help it deal with the outbreak of a new coronavirus, believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan.
In an panel discussion with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, the Liberal parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, Rob Oliphant, was asked about the government response to the outbreak, which the World Health Organization has now deemed a global health emergency.
More than 10,000 people have been sickened by the virus while more than 200 have died, the vast majority of both in China.
But while Ottawa has stressed the risk to Canadians is low, other countries have begun evacuating their citizens from the epicentre of the outbreak as the Canadian government continues to wait for permission from China to send the jet it has chartered to bring Canadians home.
Conservative MP Dan Albas, who is a member of the special committee on Canada-China relations, said he doesn’t think the government is doing enough and that he wants clearer answers on why other countries have been allowed to bring their citizens home while the Canadian government has not.
He argued the government seems to have been caught “flat-footed.”
Oliphant said that’s not the case and the government is pursuing several avenues of what could happen next.
“The plane is ready to go. A crew is trained and ready to go. We’re waiting for a manifest to know which passengers are on that plane and we’re waiting for permission from the Chinese government,” he said, adding Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champange spoke with his Chinese counterpart on Thursday.
“And they’re continuing to have this conversation. We’ve offered to help China with medical supplies. We’re doing everything we should do, but we’re also not panicking.
“The last thing you want a government to do is panic.”
The Chinese government has implemented a quarantine on several cities including Wuhan, home to roughly 11 million people.
In total, around 50 million people in China are in the lockdown zone.
When the outbreak first began, Oliphant said, virtually no Canadians were registered as being in the impacted region.
“As of last week, we had two Canadians had been registered in this province. Now we have over 300,” he said.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said Chinese officials are making it clear anyone with symptoms of the coronavirus will not be allowed to leave the country.
But public health officials say the virus has an incubation period of roughly two weeks, which has led to questions over the past week about whether the government will issue a quarantine for any Canadians returning from the impacted region aboard the evacuation flight.
Hajdu told Global News that “all options are on the table.”