Chinese Canadians whose family members remain in Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, are urging the federal government to send a third evacuation plane to bring home Canadians and permanent residents.
Wuhan and other cities across Hubei province went into lockdown on Jan. 23 as the Chinese government tried to contain the spread of the COVID-19, leaving citizens to have “close to zero” chance of leaving the city.
An open letter calling for a third rescue flight
Residents across the Lower Mainland who are originally from Hubei province, set up a WeChat group last week and sent an open letter to Global Affairs Canada on Saturday, hoping to reunite with their loved ones who are still trapped in Hubei.
Simon Zheng, a small business owner who works in Richmond and is also part of the WeChat group, told the Richmond News that at least 50 families are still stuck in Hubei, and each family has at least one Canadian citizen in it.
According to the letter, these families failed to board either of the previous chartered flights due to poor communication and misinformation, language barriers, isolation and mass panic.
"We estimate that the real number of Canadian families still confined in the province of Hubei is in reality much higher than what we have accumulated over the last three days… The longer this ordeal carries on, and the longer the lockdown continues for these unfortunate individuals, the more danger it will impose on the Canadians stuck there," the letter reads.
"We cannot bear the thought of losing our family members if something were to happen in the next few weeks."
People in Wuhan have been through a war without smoke: resident
Melanie Huang, a former Richmond resident, is concerned about both of her dad's and grandfather's situation in Wuhan as the coronavirus has claimed more than 2,600 lives so far.
Huang said her dad flew to China on Jan. 13 to celebrate Chinese New Year with her 89-year-old grandfather, but now he can't return to Canada since all train stations and airports have shut down.
"The virus has spread quickly over the past few weeks, and hospitals only accept coronavirus-related patients. If seniors slip at home or hurt themselves, they won't get treatment in time," said Huang.
There is also some confusion regarding who is qualified to board the Canadian evacuation flight, according to Huang.
"I contacted the Canadian embassy to check if my dad, who is a permanent resident of Canada, is allowed to leave on the fight, but the answer was 'no.' We were told that permanent residents who hold Chinese passports aren't allowed to leave Wuhan."
However, Huang later came across news from English media outlets saying that Chinese nationals who are family members of foreign citizens could board flights from Wuhan.
Huang said dozens of WeChat group members now count on the Canadian government to arrange the third flight.
"As family members, we are willing to chip in some money for the flight. The risk our loved ones currently face is very high. Basically, they have been through a war without smoke."
Newly married couple face forced separation
Meanwhile, Canadian citizen Zheng couldn't celebrate the first Valentine's Day with his wife after getting married late last year.
Zheng's wife, who is in the process of getting permanent residency, went back to Wuhan to visit family members. Now, she is trapped there because the city has been locked down.
Zheng said they didn't consider trying to board one of the first two chartered flights because they thought people who hold Canadian passports should be given priority to leave Wuhan. However, Zheng's desire to reunite with his wife grows stronger as it's uncertain how long the crisis will last.
"My wife has been self-isolating herself at home for the past few weeks. She is trying her best to stay safe, but long-time isolation might result in negative emotions," said Zheng. "If there is another flight leaving Wuhan, I hope to see my wife on that plane."
A spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada said they remain in regular contact with Canadians in China and are continuing to assist those in need.
In a written statement, the spokesperson added that Canadian citizens who require emergency consular assistance should contact the Embassy of Canada in Beijing at 86 (10) 5139-4000. Canadians can also call the department's 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, Global Affairs Canada has not commented on whether it will send a third plane into Hubei to bring back the remaining Canadians there.