There’s no place like home. Jim Harrison is certain of that.
The mayor of Quinte West says he has been involved from the beginning with plans to repatriate 194 Canadians from China who were stranded for weeks at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
Harrison hopes that the comfort of being back in Canada will help the evacuees.
“Home is one beautiful place,” he told the Star in a phone interview Thursday.
He doesn’t remember another quarantine happening at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, which is about a two-hour drive from Toronto.
“The base is well prepared, they have additional security (arranged). Every municipality in the area is working with the base to help them any way we can,” Harrison said.
He’s not worried about an outbreak on the base. The Public Health Agency of Canada is looking after additional health resources, Harrison said, noting that the multiple sets of vigorous health screenings the evacuees have had to go through has given him confidence that no one landing at CFB Trenton is infected with the virus.
A security fence has been added to the base so that the people in quarantine will have space to use if “everything is well,” Harrison said. The fencing serves another purpose: to keep curious onlookers away.
“We’re putting everything in place to control the traffic” around the base, Harrison said. “This is not a zoo. These people are Canadians . . . They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity the same as any other Canadian.”
Every community organization has come together to prep for the arrival of the evacuees. One person floated the idea of a fireworks show, but they have ultimately passed on that, Harrison said.
“We may do . . . a cheering campaign at the end of the 14 days, but right now we’re trying to make sure people show respect.”
This will not be the first time that CFB Trenton has opened its doors to civilians.
In 1999, 5,000 refugees fleeing war in the Balkans entered Canada, with many of them landing in Trenton before continuing to their new homes. In 2015, the base prepped itself again: this time, to open its doors to Syrian refugees — though they ultimately were housed in hotels near Toronto’s Pearson airport.
This time the base is a quarantine zone, where the Canadians are set to wait out the incubation period of a deadly coronavirus that was first discovered in Wuhan, China.
The repatriation flight was delayed more than 24 hours due to poor weather conditions.
There will be “no shortage of help” on hand, said Neil Ellis, MP for Bay of Quinte.
Ellis explained that passengers will be processed through customs, much like a regular flight, once the plane lands in CFB Trenton. Then, the evacuees will be quarantined, as will the flight crew. They’ll go through extensive medical screening, and those who show any symptoms will be transported to local health facilities in the area.
“The safest place for them is on the airbase,” Ellis said. On the base, the evacuees will have access to all daily necessities. Morale and welfare services have been arranged for them through the Canadian Red Cross, though it’s not yet clear what that entails.
The group will be housed at the Yukon Lodge, a hotel used by the military that is located on the base.
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan told reporters Monday that six Armed Forces personnel, two doctors and four nurses would be on the flight “to provide medical assistance as required, including health screening of the passengers before, during and at the conclusion of the flight.
Trenton was chosen for its ability to accommodate large numbers of people within a short timeline, Sajjan explained.
Get more of the Star in your inbox
Never miss the latest news from the Star. Sign up for our newsletters to get today’s top stories, your favourite columnists and lots more in your inbox
At this point, the evacuees are all healthy. “We’re hoping there are no problems,” Ellis said. If there are, though, he says they have assistance lined up from all levels of government.
The municipality’s long-time mayor has no doubts that the team on the base will do everything that they can for the people arriving.
“The community is with them.”
Feb. 6, 2020 — Update: This story has been updated from a previously published version with the latest information that 194 Canadians are flying back home, not 211 people as originally reported.