OTTAWA — A charter plane carrying Canadian citizens home from the centre of the global novel coronavirus outbreak has begun its journey home.
“The plane is wheels up,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a tweet Thursday afternoon after the evacuation flight organized by the federal government departed from Wuhan, the city in central China where the outbreak originated.
The flight is slated to stop to refuel in Vancouver before heading to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where it is expected to land early Friday.
All evacuees from Wuhan will then spend 14 days under quarantine on the military base in southern Ontario.
They will be monitored to see if they have contracted the virus.
Canadian officials have documented five cases of coronavirus in the country so far.
They say the quarantine is necessary to ensure the virus doesn’t spread further.
The plane was originally due to take off on Wednesday, but was delayed due to bad weather.
About 50 more Canadian passengers are expected to leave China on board a United States government flight scheduled to depart later today.
The federal government has also chartered a second flight to bring more Canadians home next week.
Champagne said that flight is scheduled to leave Wuhan, a city of 11 million people under quarantine, on Feb. 10.
It is expected to arrive at CFB Trenton the next day, where its passengers will also be under mandatory quarantine for two full weeks.
“I think it’s a good thing because everybody who wants to depart will have a third chance to come back to Canada,” Champagne said at a press conference Thursday in Ottawa.
The government had space for 211 passengers on the first flight. 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.
Champagne said only 176 in total boarded the plane.
“About two-thirds of Canadians seeking to leave Wuhan will have left for Canada,” Champagne said.
“As expected, we had a small number of no-shows at the airport, mostly related to individuals who changed their minds at the last minute.”
More than 300 people have asked for Ottawa’s help getting out of the city.
Champagne said anyone who decided to stay behind would continue to receive consular assistance.
Myriam Larouche, a 25-year-old student from Quebec who is in Wuhan, said the flight began to board just past midnight Friday local time.
Kate Schellenberg said she received a text message from her twin brother Michael as he was waiting to board. He is set to leave China with his wife Summer Wu and their one-year-old son Felix.
He told her that he could see the plane, and people wearing yellow hazmat suits.
Global Affairs Canada had advised passengers to expect delays, noting that Chinese authorities would be performing health screening and immigration controls before people were allowed to board.
“The check-in experience will be significantly different to what you may be used to,” said an email, obtained by The Canadian Press.
“We ask for your understanding and patience.”
Consular services have also been offered to two Canadians in Japan who contracted the virus on a cruise ship quarantined in the port city of Yokohama, just outside Tokyo.
The Diamond Princess is carrying 1,045 crew and 2,666 guests, including 251 Canadians. About 20 people have contracted the virus so far. The two Canadians who tested positive were transferred to local health facilities in Japan.
Unlike those returning home from Wuhan, once the Canadians on board the cruise ship are released from quarantine in Japan they will not be required to go through another period of isolation, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.
The new coronavirus has sickened more than 28,000 and killed 563 in China since the outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization in December.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2020.