OTTAWA — The number of Canadians who want to flee the Chinese province afflicted with the novel coronavirus has climbed to 325.
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.
Canada is seeking Chinese approval to send a plane to the locked-down city of Wuhan to collect the rising number of Canadians who have asked for help to leave, 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.
The death toll in China from the virus, declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization, has reached 304, and the number of people infected worldwide has surpassed 14,550.
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.
The federal government hasn’t said whether Canadians who eventually arrive from China will be quarantined.
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.
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.
This past week, Health Minister Patty Hajdu was pressed by reporters on Parliament Hill on whether Canadians returning from China would be quarantined. She replied:
“We will always work to ensure the health of Canadians, whether they’re abroad or whether they’re here,” she said on Wednesday.
“So, yes what we’re looking at is a scenario where we have all the measures in place to protect Canadians from exposure to the virus. Having said that, that’s about as far as I can go.”
— with files from the Associated Press