A passenger plane chartered by the federal government to repatriate nearly 300 Canadians stranded in the Chinese city of Wuhan is on its way to a staging area in neighbouring Vietnam, where it will await a final clearance to airlift Canadian evacuees, Canadian officials said Tuesday.
The first group of Canadians is expected to leave Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in the early morning of Feb. 6.
But not everyone who registered for the airlift is guaranteed a seat on the first flight. The Airbus A330, operated by Hi Fly Malta, can only take on board 285 passengers, according to Canadian officials who spoke to CBC News.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the plane had left for Hanoi and will carry on to China when final approvals are granted.
“We will keep you posted as the plane lands and when we can stage what I call ‘step two’ of the operation, which is to go from Hanoi to Wuhan,” Champagne said.
Canadians getting ready
Wuhan, has been at the epicentre of a global coronavirus outbreak that has sickened over 20,630 people in 23 countries and killed at least 425 people as of Tuesday, according to statistics released by the World Health Organization.
However, 99 per cent of all coronavirus cases and fatalities are in China – with the vast majority of cases reported in the Hubei province of which Wuhan is the largest metropolis.
Only two fatalities related to the new coronavirus have been reported outside of China, which has been struggling to contain the spread of the virus within its borders and internationally, and has imposed stringent quarantine measures in Wuhan and other cities affected by the outbreak.
Canadian officials expect to get the permission to enter China’s airspace “within hours” of the plane’s departure, the Champagne said.
“We know that we need to have plane ready, fuelled and with a crew on board to be ready to fly in just when we get the permission,” Champagne said.
Families to be kept together
Canadians who were selected to be airlifted on the first flight have already been contacted to advise them of the complicated procedures, he added.
“The indication we got from the Chinese government is that Canadian citizens would be allowed to leave and to maintain family unity with respect to children,” Champagne said.
Chinese authorities have indicated that only people who have travelled to China on foreign passports will be allowed to leave, as a measure to prevent the spread of the virus, Champagne said.
The plane we have chartered to assist those Canadians in #Wuhan and #HubeiProvince who wish to leave is currently on its way to #Hanoi in Vietnam where it will be prepositioned for departure to China when final approvals are granted. pic.twitter.com/EehBS2LYeH
— François-Philippe Champagne (FPC) 🇨🇦 (@FP_Champagne) February 4, 2020
Dual citizens, who travelled to China on their Chinese passport and permanent residents, will not be allowed to leave the country, unless they are accompanying a minor who is a Canadian citizen, Champagne said.
“But I will continue to advocate for every Canadian,” Champagne said, stressing that the issue of affects not only Canadians but many other countries that have dual citizens in China.
Champagne said the numbers have been fluctuating, but there are now about 300 Canadians requesting repatriation. Based on past evacuations, about 20 per cent of those individuals could be “no shows” who choose not to leave for various reasons, he said.
Once, these Canadians and their family members arrive in Canada, they will be placed under quarantine for 14 days at the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton, officials said.
With files from CBC News