Canada to Evacuate More than 300 Canadians from Wuhan Region

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(Bloomberg) -- Canada will evacuate more than 300 citizens from Wuhan as soon as China gives it permission to land a plane, and will quarantine them at a military base upon their arrival, government officials said Monday in Ottawa.

More than 300 Canadians currently in the Wuhan region have requested consular services for assisted repatriation, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters Monday in Ottawa, adding the government will release final numbers closer to when the evacuation takes place. The timeline is still being worked out, and a team is on the ground in Wuhan, he said.

Canada’s move to repatriate people from the locked-down city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak comes days after the U.S. and other countries evacuated their citizens and imposed travel bans on the Asian nation. Health Minister Patty Hajdu defended Canada’s move to leave its borders open, saying at the press briefing there’s no evidence that closing borders actually slows the spread of the virus.

“The evidence suggests actually the opposite,” Hajdu said. “By closing down the borders it’s much harder to detect where someone is coming from. This open and honest transaction allows for more detailed screening. We’re very confident that this process is working.”

Canada has secured visas for its deployment and medical team as well as the flight crew who will be assisting with the evacuation. The government has chartered a plane that will first fly in Hanoi, Vietnam, then to Wuhan, once the Chinese government gives the necessary authorization for it to land, Champagne said, adding the airspace around Wuhan remains closed.

Airport Closed

“We need Chinese approval for the flight manifests and all the documentation of Canadians wishing to leave in order for them to travel to the airport” which is currently closed, he said.

Canada has been slower than other countries to issue an evacuation plan, prompting the Chinese government to praise the North American country for remaining calm. The U.S. and Australia -- key trading partners to China -- are barring entry to all non-resident travelers from the mainland as the virus spreads.

Champagne, asked if recent discord with the Chinese government was slowing the process of obtaining the necessary approvals, said to the contrary, the Asian country was moving as quickly as could be expected in what was a very complex operation. Canada’s relationship with China has been strained since the detention in Vancouver of a top Huawei Technologies Co. executive on a U.S. extradition request in late 2018.

Once the passengers arrive back in Canada, they will be subject to a 14-day holding period at a military base in Trenton, Ontario to be monitored for any symptoms of the virus.

The outbreak is drawing parallels to the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic, which killed 44 Canadians, the most outside China. The spread of Coronavirus continues to worsen despite global efforts to contain it, with the death toll rising past 360. Total confirmed cases have reached almost 17,400.

The global health emergency is already having wide-ranging economic impacts. Trade in almost every commodity is at risk with oil demand plunging and oil refineries curbing operations. Canada won’t be immune to the shocks. China is the second-largest importer of Canadian products and is also the country’s largest source of tourist arrivals.

Canada has four confirmed cases of coronavirus and zero deaths. Hajdu said the disease isn’t currently considered a public health emergency in Canada, due to the effectiveness of the protocols put in place.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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