Two-thirds of the Canadians seeking evacuation from Wuhan as officials grapple with the spread of a new coronavirus are on their way back to Canada.
The flight chartered by the Canadian government has now taken off and is beginning its journey to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where the 176 evacuees will be housed for the next two weeks in quarantine. Roughly 50 others departed on American evacuation flight.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters in a press conference on Thursday that the rest are scheduled to be brought home next week on a second chartered Canadian flight.
Champagne said the second flight is scheduled to leave Wuhan on Feb. 10 and get to the military base on Feb. 11.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu was also at the press conference and repeated the call given yesterday by Champagne for Canadians who do not absolutely need to be in China to get out now while they can.
“Transportation may get more difficult between the two countries as the situation evolves,” she said, adding that the government does not know how long the quarantines put in place on 50 million people in Wuhan and several surrounding cities in Hubei province will last.
Air Canada and British Airways are among a slew of airlines freezing flights to China as officials grapple with the new coronavirus.
Hajdu stressed the need for anyone who has managed to travel from Hubei province to Canada within the last 14 days to self-isolate.
“It is a critical time in the global efforts to contain and limit the outbreak,” she said.
More than 370 Canadians in Wuhan have asked to be evacuated over recent weeks, but officials have said they expect roughly 211 to be on the Canadian flight.
Canadians who are on the flights leaving on Wuhan on Thursday were notified via email earlier in the day following a delay to departure that kept the plane grounded in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Those who aren’t able to get to the airport or who have decided not to make the trip are being urged to contact consular officials.
Bin Zhang was one of the Canadians at the airport in Wuhan and spoke with Global News about the experience so far.
“In terms of the whole process, everything was pretty smooth,” he said. “I have to say it was pretty organized. We knew exactly what to do next. When we met with one person, they would say, ‘Go to this spot and next you go to that spot’ and, you know, so on and so forth.”
He said most people at the airport seemed to be wearing masks, and there are things like temperature scanners set up throughout, along with questionnaires provided by Chinese officials asking whether people have had any contact with individuals with symptoms.
One Canadian passenger on the evacuation plane, Megan Millward, also shared several photos with Global News.
Upon their arrival in Canada, evacuees will be quarantined at CFB Trenton in southern Ontario for two weeks.
Wuhan has been the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, which has now sickened more than 28,000 and killed 563.
It has also spread to more than 20 countries, with four confirmed cases so far in Canada.
Seven other Canadians have tested positive for the virus on board a cruise ship quarantined in Japan.