Canadian evacuees from the Chinese province afflicted with the novel coronavirus will be quarantined for two weeks upon their arrival at an Ontario military base, the government announced Sunday night.
But Ottawa did not provide a timeline for when they’ll arrive from the locked-down city of Wuhan, saying it’s still awaiting final approval from Chinese authorities. Their plane will land at Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
“To protect the health and safety of Canadians — both those who are coming to and those already in Canada — the returning individuals will undergo a thorough health screening before boarding, during the flight and upon arrival at CFB Trenton, Ontario,” said a statement from Global Affairs Canada.
“All other returning Canadians, including staff and flight crew, will remain at CFB Trenton for 14 days for further medical assessment and observation, and be provided with all the necessary medical and other supports as needed to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians.”
Until Sunday, the federal government hasn’t said whether Canadians who eventually arrive from China would be quarantined. But officials said they were closely watching developments in other countries, including the United States.
Nearly 200 Americans have already been evacuated from Wuhan, and U.S. health officials ordered that they be quarantined for two weeks. It was the first time a federal quarantine has been ordered in that country since the 1960s, when one was enacted over concern about potential spread of smallpox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
South Korea, too, quarantined its evacuees, who arrived in Seoul on Friday. They underwent screenings for fever before boarding buses to quarantine facilities established in the central towns of Asan and Jincheon. Residents there have protested plans to place the evacuees in their neighbourhoods, throwing eggs and other objects at visiting government officials.
The Australian government was forced to defend its plan, which involved sending evacuees to Christmas Island, which has been used to banish asylum seekers and convicted criminals. Critics warned that some Australians would prefer to stay in China rather than go there.
“The government remains fully engaged on the issue, and will do all that is necessary to ensure the safety of Canadians, both at home and abroad,” said a statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office after a meeting of senior cabinet members where the plan to quarantine at the Trenton military base was discussed.
The number of Canadians who want to flee the Chinese province afflicted by the virus climbed to 325 on Sunday.
Global Affairs Canada provided the updated figure on Sunday, as the world saw its first case of a person dying from the new coronavirus outside of China — a 44-year-old man in the Philippines.
“This has been a rapidly evolving situation and the number of Canadians asking for assistance is quickly changing,” said a statement from the department.
Global Affairs Canada said government officials and military personnel are currently en route to Hanoi, Vietnam, and in the process of obtaining visas from the Chinese government to enter Wuhan.
It said the government has chartered a plane to land in Hanoi and then head to Wuhan, where airspace is currently closed, once it gets approval from the Chinese government.
But there was no indication Sunday from Global Affairs about the status of that flight.
The department was, however, telling people not to go to the airport unannounced because they will not be permitted to board the aircraft. Instead, they were told to contact its Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa to make arrangements.
“Canada is chartering a plane to take Canadians from Wuhan, China back to Canada. We have 325 requests for departure assistance from Hubei Province and we will be reaching out to provide updates and to confirm their needs in order to assist our logistical planning,” the department said in a statement.
“Spaces will be limited and not guaranteed, and will likely only be confirmed with very little notice.”
Canada is consulting with the United States and Britain “to ensure co-operation and sharing of best practices in this operation,” the statement said.
China says 361 have died on the mainland from the new virus, with an additional 2,829 new cases over the last 24 hours bringing the Chinese total to 17,205.
The latest figures, released on Monday in China, come a day after the first death from the illness was recorded outside the country, in the Philippines, as countries around the world evacuated hundreds of their citizens from the infection zone.
Canada has four known cases — three in Ontario and one in British Columbia.
On Sunday, a second French-chartered plane carrying 300 evacuees from China landed at the military base of Istres in the southern French region of Bouches-du-Rhone. That followed the first French plane that landed on Friday.
In spite of the widespread fear of the virus, health officials in Canada have said chances of contracting it in this country are exceptionally low. They said people should take normal cold- and flu-season precautions of frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes.
— with files from the Associated Press
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press