Canadians who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms linked to a new coronavirus likely won’t be able to get on a flight home from China, Ontario officials said Monday.
Canada is arranging a flight to evacuate Canadian citizens from Hubei province in China, the centre of an outbreak of a novel coronavirus that has infected more than 20,000 people and killed more than 400.
A total of 325 Canadians have requested evacuation, and the federal government said Sunday that it has a flight ready to bring people back. After they arrive, evacuees will be kept under observation for two weeks at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont.
But only healthy people will be able to board, said Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health for Ontario.
“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,” he told reporters at a press conference Monday morning.
People who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms like coughing “can’t get on. They can’t even get in the airport,” he said.
“I think they’re going to have to stay there and get assessed in Wuhan.
“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.”
People who develop symptoms during the flight will be treated like infected travellers upon arrival in Canada and assessed by quarantine officers, he said.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday that Canadians would be screened by Chinese authorities before they enter the airport and people with symptoms wouldn’t be able to board. Then, they would be screened again before they got on the plane.
The flight will stop for refuelling in Vancouver en route to Trenton, she said. Passengers won’t be allowed to leave the flight during the refuelling stop, although if anyone is ill before arriving in Vancouver, they will be taken off the plane and treated by B.C. health authorities.
When the plane arrives in Trenton, passengers will be required to stay for 14 days at the military base under the federal Quarantine Act, Hajdu said. This time period is about the longest possible incubation period, in which someone might begin to show symptoms if infected, officials said.
Passengers will be separated from each other during their stay in Trenton, Hajdu said, in order to prevent someone passing the virus on to the others if they develop symptoms.
After the 14 days are up, the government will arrange rides to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa so that people can go home, she said.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said that while officials don’t yet have a timeline for the flight to get home, as they’re still waiting on Chinese approval to fly into Wuhan, they will begin contacting Canadians who have requested evacuation later on Monday.
One plane will be ready to depart from Hanoi, Vietnam, very soon, he said, and the government has arranged for a second plane if necessary.
While generally only Canadian citizens will be allowed to board the plane, permanent residents in Wuhan will be allowed to return to Canada if they are the primary caregivers of Canadian children so that families can stay together, Champagne said.
— With files from Global News’ Kerri Breen and the Canadian Press