Canada to evacuate citizens from flu-hit China region, warns against travel

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a mask walks in the Chinatown district of downtown Toronto, Ontario, after 3 patients with novel coronavirus were reported in Canada January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will evacuate about 160 of its citizens from the Chinese region that is the epicenter for the new coronavirus, and the government is urging others to avoid non-essential travel to China, a top official said on Wednesday.

“We have 160 Canadians who have requested consular assistance in China. We have secured an aircraft to bring those Canadians who wish to leave back to Canada,” Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said.

Canada is in the process of obtaining diplomatic approval for the flight, and Champagne said he did not know how long it would take to complete the evacuation. Some 250 Canadians have told the government they are in the region, but not everyone has said they want to leave.

Champagne, asked whether any of the Canadians had contracted the virus, said he could not answer that now.

The United States and Japan flew nationals out of the province at the epicenter on Wednesday as the number of deaths leapt by 27 to 133, and the World Health Organization said there was “deeply concerning” evidence of person-to-person transmission in other countries.

The virus emerged last month in a live wild animal market in the central Chinese province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan.

Canada updated its travel advisory to urge Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China. Previously the government had said to avoid only Hubei province.

Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government was still working on protocols for how to deal with people returning to Canada.

“We are working very closely with our U.S. counterparts who obviously have some experience in this and have set up best practices and we’ll be following their lead very closely,” she said.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson and David Ljunggren; writing by Steve Scherer, editing by Diane Craft and Chizu Nomiyama