Coronavirus evacuees encounter road blocks, red tape on way out

PARIS (Reuters) - Christopher Lan toughed out road blocks and red tape in his scramble to get himself and his family on an evacuation flight out of the Coronavirus epicentre and home to Canada.

Lan, a biochemical engineering professor at Ottawa University, was visiting family in Hubei province with his wife and 30-year-old son when Chinese authorities put the region in lockdown in a scramble to halt the spread of the virus.

After the euphoria of finding his family’s names on a Canadian government list for flight out came the chaotic journey to the airport in Wuhan.

A 4-1/2 hour drive on Wednesday afternoon, along often-deserted roads to Wuhan where citizens are living in near-quarantined conditions, ended abruptly at a roadblock 7 km (4 miles) from the airport. Police told him plans had changed; the flight was now due to leave late on Thursday.

“There was a lot of frustration, chaos, people got confused, people did not know what to do,” the dual Chinese-Canadian national told Reuters in one of several videos he filmed as he laboured his way towards Wuhan’s airport.

Lan and his family slept in their car in a parking lot as temperatures hovered near freezing.

“The temperature is not too bad,” he said, wrapped up in heavy overcoats and wearing face-masks. “I guess it’s going to drop to close to zero or below zero. Quite an adventure!”

Lan is among 300 evacuees whom Canada aims to evacuate and quarantine at a military air base in the small town of Trenton, Ontario. The flight was still awaiting final Chinese approval.

The Coronavirus outbreak has killed 563 people and sickened some 28,000 worldwide. France, Britain, Spain and the United States and others have already evacuated some nationals from Wuhan on specially chartered flights.

Reuters lost contact with Lan before he reached the airport. Also trying to fly out was Edward Wang and his mother. He was met at the airport terminal by workers in protective hazmat suits. A desk draped in a Canadian flag had been set up by one bank of empty check-in desks.

Wang said there were insufficient seats on the Canadian flight and that he had been allocated places on a U.S. charter that was due to leave at 03:30 a.m. (1930 GMT) on Friday.

“The Americans will drop me off in Vancouver,” he said as he collected his boarding pass. “Then I’ll continue on to Trenton.”

Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; Writing by Richard Lough, Editing by William Maclean