A week after the federal government promised to send a plane to evacuate Canadians from the epicentre of a virus outbreak that has killed 400 people, Myriam Larouche got the email.
The plane was on its way to take her and other Canadians home.
It was midnight in Wuhan, where Larouche has been living in the densely populated Jiedaokou area for five months while studying at a local university. Cooped up in a shared dorm room with the entire city on lockdown, Larouche has been sitting in wait for the last two weeks for word from the government. Ottawa has said more than 300 Canadians have asked for help to leave Wuhan but the plane has room for only 250 passengers.
A new coronavirus has so far killed 425 people in China and two others in Hong Kong and in the Philippines. More than 20,000 people have been sickened in China and at least 180 in other countries, including four in Canada. The area surrounding Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, is under complete quarantine with public transit, taxis, trains, and commercial flights all on pause.
“I’m really happy I’m finally going to go home and I’m very excited about it,” she said, hours after getting the note from the government.
The journey home to Canada — much anticipated by both Canadians at home and those who, like Larouche, found themselves stuck in locked-down Wuhan — will be a long one. Larouche will be documenting the trip — from city to airport to isolation in Canada — for Star readers.
First, the plane chartered by the Canadian government to airlift Canadians from Wuhan made its way overseas Tuesday. Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the plane will wait in Vietnam for final permission from Chinese authorities to land in Wuhan.
The plane was set to depart the airport early Thursday local time but is now expected to leave in the evening. Larouche said she got an email from the Canadian Embassy about the delay. The email says the delay was “due to circumstances beyond the control of the Government of Canada.”
Ottawa has said that upon arrival in Canada, the evacuees will be quarantined at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton for 14 days, with no visits from family or friends allowed. They will go through medical checks done by Chinese authorities, and no sick person will be allowed to leave.
Larouche said the prospect of being in isolation in Canada doesn’t bother her — particularly if it puts Canadians’ minds at ease over whether the evacuees could cause the coronavirus to spread in this country.
She arrived in Wuhan last fall with the intention of staying for two years to study tourism management at a local university. Before the outbreak, she spent her down time exploring the city, other areas of China, and practising Chinese.
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But since the coronavirus began to spread and the entire city was quarantined, she’s only left her apartment to buy food from the grocery store. The once-crowded streets outside her window stayed almost entirely empty all day.
In an interview with the Star, Larouche said she wondered whether she would have another opportunity to return to Wuhan at a later time.
“We call it a study city. There’s a lot of universities here, there’s a lot of international students,” she said. All those students are chatting with one another now online, comparing stories about the quarantine and whether they’ll be able to leave Wuhan. “It’s easier when you know there are other people going through what you’re going through,” she said.