Flight HFM322 arrived at Vancouver International Airport just after midnight eastern time on Friday. It landed at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., at around 6:30 a.m. ET.
Wearing masks and carrying their belongings, the passengers eventually deplaned and got on waiting buses. They are expected to stay at the military base under quarantine for the next 14 days.
Along with Canadian citizens, officials said 13 permanent residents and six Chinese nationals with Canadian visas were allowed to escort the 34 Canadian minors returning home.
The plane, chartered by the Canadian government, refuelled in B.C. for roughly two hours before departing for its final stop at CFB Trenton.
No one got on or off the plane while it was stopped in Vancouver.
Global News reporters at Vancouver International Airport said paramedic supervisors and ambulances were waiting near the remote stand where the aircraft landed. They said the stand is about 200 metres west, away from the international terminal.
“So, by that count, we have 213 Canadians which have now been repatriated,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Friday. “Now, the number of Canadians who want to come back, obviously, is fluctuating.”
More than 370 Canadians in Wuhan have asked to be evacuated in recent weeks. Champagne said the rest are scheduled to be brought home next week on a second chartered Canadian flight.
The second flight is scheduled to leave Wuhan on Feb. 10 and get to the military base on Feb. 11, he said.
Champagne said the days between the two Canadian flights will help officials get in touch again with those left in Wuhan and account for those who want to come back.
“Some people have decided to come with us. Some changed their minds,” he said. “So the good thing is that with the second Canadian flight, we will be able to bring back home everyone who wants to come back.”
Of the Canadian and American flights, Champagne said: “About two-thirds of Canadians seeking to leave Wuhan will have left for Canada.”
All of the Canadians under quarantine will spend the next 14 days at Yukon Lodge, a facility on the base that is often used for military personnel and their family members.
It resembles a hotel, with 290 rooms with basic amenities. Hygiene kits and extra blankets from the Canadian Red Cross await each evacuee in their own rooms.
Megan Millward said she was so relieved to arrive back in Canada that she immediately put on her snow pants and laid down in the snow.
“I was extremely relieved,” she told Global News. “I smelled the fresh Canadian air. I just wanted to enjoy the snow falling.”
Millward, of Montreal, was visiting her in-laws in a small village in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, with her husband and two children when the outbreak developed into a global health emergency.
She said the flight was long, especially with young children, but that the experience at CFB Trenton has been “very comfortable” so far.
“We have everything we need,” she said.
“We were concerned that we might be stuck in a room for the 14 days, but in fact, we have the run of the building. We’re also allowed outside. There’s a perimeter marked by an orange fence, so we can actually let the kids run off some energy and get some fresh air.”
Bin Zhang, his wife and children felt the same sense of relief.
“The process was physically exhausting, mentally exhausting,” Zhang said.
“But as soon as we got in that room, it felt right at home.”
The Calgary family was greeted with water, food and kindness from health care and military personnel organizing the quarantine.
“They prioritized us,” he said. “They had a lot of stuff right there waiting — diapers, clothes, gloves, tubes, jackets, you name it. And a lot of people to give you a hand.”
CFB Trenton 8 Wing commander Col. Ryan Deming said the risk the novel coronavirus presents to Canadians remains low, but precautions will be taken.
“Every effort is being made to ensure the care, dignity and respect of the repatriated Canadians as well as the safety and security of all personnel dedicated to this government approach,” Deming said during a news conference on Thursday.
Since the outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization in December, the new coronavirus has sickened more than 30,000 and killed at least 638 in China.
Canadian health authorities have documented seven cases of the disease in Canada so far and said the quarantine is necessary to ensure the virus doesn’t spread further.
— With files from Global’s Sean Boynton, Kieron O’Dea and the Canadian Press