The federal government has secured a second chartered flight to evacuate all Canadians in Wuhan seeking to return home from the epicentre of the new coronavirus.
The first plane has departed en route to Canada and a second plane is expected to leave next Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said.
“With the second flight, we’ll be able to bring every Canadian home,” Champagne said at a press conference on Thursday.
The federal government says that 211 people have been granted seats on today’s repatriation plane, but only 194 passengers showed up. Champagne said this was expected and that some individuals “changed their minds at the last minute.”
An estimated 50 Canadians will leave Wuhan later today aboard an American flight. That means that next week’s flight will have more than enough seats for those left in Wuhan, Champange said.
“We will make sure everyone who wants to depart will have a third chance to get back to Canada,” he said.
Before taking off, each passenger will be screened, as Canadian officials have said no one demonstrating symptoms of the virus will be allowed to board.
Should a passenger get sick while aboard they will be put into isolation and be given protective gear to prevent the spread of the new respiratory virus. There are medical staff on board the plane, which was initially planned to arrive a day earlier but was delayed because of weather.
The plane will land first in Vancouver for refueling before arriving at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton in southern Ontario where the passengers will be quarantined for two weeks to ensure they have not been infected and prevent the further spread of the outbreak.
Mental health services will be made available at the base, a step Health Minister Patty Hajdu called “critical.”
“I think it’s important to remember that these people have been through a stressful time under quarantine,” Hajdu said. “This is a scary time for them not knowing whether or not they’re going to come back to Canada and their families.”
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play on Thursday, the health minister said she’ll be visiting CFB Trenton as early as next week but didn’t say whether her colleague Minister Champagne would be accompanying her.
"I don’t know his itinerary but I know I will be going," she said. "I will be protected according to the advice I get from public health officials."
Canadian mother Megan Millward was one of the hundreds of people waiting to board the plane from the Wuhan airport. Speaking with CTV News Channel, she said she was "tired but extremely happy, and relieved."
Steven Li, another Canadian waiting to board, described seeing the plane as a "really good view."
“Everybody seems calm. There’s no panic. There’s kids running around, people taking pictures,” Li said, his mouth and nose covered with a black mask.
TRUDEAU: RISK REMAINS ‘LOW’
So far, five cases of the virus have been confirmed in Canada – three in Ontario and two in British Columbia. Globally, the virus has infected more than 28,000 people and killed more than 560.
Speaking at a big city mayors’ meeting in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked municipal leaders for their collaboration following the international outbreak.
“We’ve managed to keep risk to Canadians low because people have been responding responsibly, quickly and in a coordinated fashion,” Trudeau said.
Meanwhile, 251 Canadians aboard a cruise ship in Japan have been quarantined after 10 passengers – including two Canadians – tested positive for the virus. The ship and its 3,700 passengers are being quarantined for the next two weeks in hopes of containing the illness.
Champagne said government officials have been in touch with families affected, but he could not provide details on the conditions of the two Canadians in hospital.
“We are in contact with the families who are on site,” he said.
In the United States, 195 Americans are being quarantined at an air base in California after returning home from Wuhan.
One of the evacuees, Mathew McCoy, said the group has focused on creating a positive atmosphere despite the circumstances. The evacuees have even begun leading classes on topics they’re experts in – art, taxes, Zumba -- to help pass the time.
“So we keep busy, but we try to keep everybody not focused on the negative things but focused on the positive things,” McCoy told CTV News Channel.
His advice for others headed into quarantine: don’t panic.
“Don’t live in fear. Create a positive atmosphere. Do town hall meetings each day so everybody is informed … create things to do.”
With files from CTVNews.ca's Rachel Aiello in Ottawa