A charter plane is flying to Hanoi, Vietnam, to wait for clearance from Chinese officials to pick up Canadians stranded in Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Airspace in Wuhan is currently closed as part of a region-wide lockdown of public transportation options to prevent the spread of the virus. Chinese officials need to approve the flight’s passenger list and Canadians’ travel documents before giving the plane special permission to land in Wuhan, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne told reporters Monday.
“We’re working around the clock to assist people wishing to leave the region of China currently under quarantine,” he said.
Canadian officials will begin contacting the 280 or so Canadians in Wuhan this afternoon to give them more details, he added. There is a complex system of clearances involved. For instance, Chinese officials need to know the licence plate numbers of the vehicles Canadians will travel to the airport in.
Passengers wishing to be repatriated must go through an exit health check by Chinese officials, and will not be allowed to board if they’re showing symptoms.
The Canadian Armed Forces will screen passengers a second time before they get on the plane in Wuhan.
Right now, none of the Canadians asking to be repatriated are experiencing symptoms, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.
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If someone develops symptoms mid-flight, they’ll be moved to an isolated area of the plane and have to wear a mask for the rest of the journey.
The plane will land in Vancouver for re-fuelling, but the passengers won’t get off. The exception is if someone becomes sick over the Pacific — in that case, a health worker at YVR will take them off the plane and into isolation.
From there, the plane will continue to the military base in Trenton, Ontario, where the repatriated Canadians will be quarantined for 14 days. After that, the government will help them continue on to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, or wherever else they want to go.
It’s China’s position that only foreign nationals are allowed to be repatriated — therefore Chinese citizens who are permanent residents of Canada won’t be able to get on the plane Champagne said.
The only exception is for family unity. Champagne said a child under 18 who is a Canadian citizen would be able to have their parent or caregiver fly back with them.
There is also a possibility of chartering a second plane if the first one fills up, Champagne added. If there are only a few passengers that don’t make it on the first flight, Canada will also look at transporting them on another country’s repatriation flight.