Canada has chartered a plane to bring home as many as 160 of its nationals from China because of the coronavirus epidemic, officials said Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters it could take several days to obtain permission to land in or near Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic.
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“There are 160 Canadians (in China) who have asked for consular assistance,” Champagne said.
“We have secured a plane to repatriate Canadians who wish to come back,” he said. “Now the next step is to work on the diplomatic front and the logistics with our Chinese counterparts. We are engaging in discussion as we speak.”
Canada’s relations with China are at a low point because of its arrest of a Huawei executive on a US warrant in December 2018, and Beijing’s detention of two Canadians in apparent retaliation.
On Tuesday, the first three Canadian confirmed or presumed cases were announced — a Toronto man and his wife who recently returned from Wuhan, and a British Columbia man in his 40s who also traveled to the region.
Ottawa has warned Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China.
Its flagship airline Air Canada announced on Wednesday it was suspending flights to mainland China, citing the government advisory. Its last flights were scheduled to depart Beijing and Shanghai on Thursday.
The Chinese government has sealed off Wuhan and neighboring cities, effectively trapping tens of millions of people, in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Some 6,000 people have been infected in the country and the death toll has climbed to 132, according to authorities.