Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said today the government will provide consular services to all Canadians trapped in the coronavirus-affected region of China due to commercial travel restrictions.
During a news conference on Parliament Hill, Champagne said the government will provide a “tailored response” based on the needs of the Canadians in the area — but did not say if an aircraft would be dispatched to repatriate people from the Wuhan area.
“We’re looking at all options to assist them,” he said.
Champagne said that 250 Canadians in the affected area have now registered with Global Affairs, and 126 have requested consular assistance to get home.
“We are in contact with them. We’re trying to contact everyone, assess their specific need for assisted repatriation,” he said.
“We’re at the same time consulting with our allies and looking at the different options that people are considering, also in contact with the Chinese authorities.”
Champagne said he couldn’t confirm the government will dispatch aircraft to bring those Canadians home, or say whether they could be transported with the assistance of another country.
“Every nation is responding to this crisis in a coordinated fashion,” he said. “As you would appreciate, it is very dynamic. The number of people requesting assistance will drive, obviously, the consular assistance we’re going to be providing.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she could not detail yet how the government would deal with Canadians in China who may be infected with the coronavirus, or say whether they would be put into isolation.
“This is an utmost priority for me, to make sure we’re protecting the health and safety of Canadians, whether they are abroad or whether they’re here,” she said.
So far, three cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in Canada. A Toronto man in his 50s and his wife were infected during a trip to Wuhan, China, and a third presumed case was reported in British Columbia today.
B.C. health officials said Tuesday a man in his 40s who regularly travels to China has tested positive for the virus and is now recovering at home in isolation.
The case is officially considered “presumptive” until Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab confirms the results from B.C.
The official number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China rose to 4,515 on Tuesday, with at least 106 deaths. Several governments — including the United States, France, Belgium, the U.K. and Japan — are planning to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the locked-down city at the centre of the outbreak.
Risk remains low
Hajdu and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam have said more cases are likely but the risk to Canadians remains low.
On Monday, Global Affairs Canada changed its travel advisory for the region, warning against all travel to the area at the centre of the outbreak. Hajdu said the government changed the advisory largely because the widespread quarantine is making it difficult for anyone to leave the area.
“There is no transportation in or out of 18 cities in China. That number may grow, and so it makes if very difficult for people who are visiting to conduct their everyday business,” she said.
Health committee hearings
Tomorrow, the House of Commons health committee will begin hearings on the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in China.
Conservative health critic Matt Jeneroux said Canadians have many unanswered questions about the virus, and he hopes they can be answered by federal health, transport and foreign affairs officials.
“There are questions about how public safety is being taken care of, how the screening at airports is being taken care of, how hospitals are being taken care of. I think all of those are legitimate questions that are being asked, and having detailed responses back to those questions I think is appropriate,” Jeneroux told CBC.
“Ultimately, we don’t want to light up a partisan fire on this. We want to make sure that Canadians are assured that their government is working diligently to protect all Canadians.”