Coronavirus: Did Ottawa wait too long to evacuate Canadians? Health experts say no

Canada is working to evacuate its citizens from China as the death toll from the novel coronavirus has passed 170 and more countries have reported new infections from the virus.

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

Champagne said the government is currently working with officials in China to organize the flight, which could take several days as the Wuhan area is now under “lockdown.”

But while Europe, Japan and the United States have already evacuated at least some of their citizens living in China, health experts say Canada’s timing is appropriate.

Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto, said it would have been a greater health risk to rush this decision.

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“The riskier thing would be to pull the trigger too quickly when we are not ready to receive people,” she said. “It sounds like a simple process but it’s actually quite complicated.”

Toronto father trying to bring home toddler from Wuhan

Toronto father trying to bring home toddler from Wuhan

Hota said there will have to be an extremely detailed screening process to ensure that people who are symptomatic don’t get on the flight.

“Even having the right type of plane to do this — it’s a long flight, and they would need to be under medical surveillance,” she said.

Colin Furness, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said evacuating people is more of a political decision than one based on sound public health policy.

“No government wants to be accused of not doing something to protect its citizens,” he said.

“If I were a Canadian in Wuhan, I would be cautious because, by definition, it’s safer to stay home and practice social isolation than get on a plane.”

Steven Hoffman, a global health professor at York University, said Canada’s decision came shortly after other countries began exploring this option.

“The mass quarantine in Wuhan is inconceivable in the Canadian context,” he said. “The government being able to alleviate that for the most vulnerable Canadians there is a good decision.”

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