The federal government says Canadians who have requested evacuation from the region of China hardest hit by the new coronavirus will undergo a two-week period of observation at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., upon arrival.
“We have been working with all levels of government, public health officials and our international partners to ensure the safe return home of Canadians from Hubei Province, including staff and the flight crew,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement on Sunday.
“Our plan is focused on ensuring the health and safety of all Canadians.”
It remains unclear when the 325 Canadians who have asked for government assistance will arrive from Hubei.
The government is chartering a plane but is still finalizing the arrangements and approvals, according to Global Affairs Canada.
Airspace in Wuhan, the city in Hubei where the outbreak is believed to have started, remains closed. Once China green-lights the Canadian government’s request to land, the plane will head for Wuhan from Hanoi, Vietnam.
Government officials and Canadian Armed Forces medics, who are en route to Hanoi, are in the process of obtaining Chinese visas.
In an email obtained by Global News, Global Affairs officials told Canadians waiting to leave China that there would be limited space on the flight. They said officials would try to give 24 hours’ notice before the aircraft is due to depart, however.
“In the event that there are more passengers than available seats, we will continue to explore all avenues to assist Canadians in departing from Wuhan, China,” the message stated.
Those returning to Canada will receive health screenings before boarding, during the flight and upon arrival, Global Affairs said in a statement.
Anyone in need of medical attention will be “safely transferred” to the health-care system.
All others — including flight crew and staff members — will be sent to CFB Trenton for a 14-day period of medical assessment and observation.
The base is located about 175 km east of Toronto.
Canada’s defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance said in a statement that protecting the Canadian Forces and the community of Trenton “is essential.”
“As we support the safe return of Canadians at CFB Trenton, be confident that all measures are in place to safeguard the health and security of everyone,” he said.
Four cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Canada since Jan. 25. Three of those individuals live in Ontario; the other patient is in B.C.
The illness has claimed 361 lives in China as of Sunday, and one person has died in the Philippines.
In efforts to contain the outbreak, China has imposed lockdowns for tens of millions of people.
Starting Sunday, the U.S. is barring entry of foreign nationals who have travelled to China. U.S. citizens who have travelled to Hubei within the last 14 days will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a media briefing at the White House on Friday.
In Canada, additional screening measures are in place at airports, and officials advised Canadians to avoid Hubei and forego non-essential travel to China.
Canadian officials have repeatedly stressed that the risk of an outbreak in Canada remains low.
They say infection control measures have improved significantly since the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) nearly 20 years ago.
That outbreak, in which 44 Canadians died, prompted xenophobia and anti-Chinese rhetoric.
At a Lunar New Year celebration in Toronto Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians need to “stay united.”
“Let me be clear, there is no place in our country for discrimination driven by fear or misinformation. This is not something Canadians will ever stand for.”
–With files from Abigail Bimman, Global News and Reuters.