Coronavirus: first Canadians repatriated from Wuhan arrive in Canada

©Agence France-Presse

A plane carrying the first Canadians to leave the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, arrived at the Trenton air force base east of Toronto on Friday.

Trenton (Canada) (AFP) - A plane bringing home the first Canadians from Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, landed Friday at a Canadian military base where they will be quarantined.

The government-chartered jetliner landed at Trenton air force base east of Toronto at around 6:30 am (11:30 am GMT), after a refueling stopover in Vancouver. It carried 174 passengers, said Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

Another American plane with 39 Canadians on board also landed in Vancouver, he said. Those passengers were to take a connecting government flight to Trenton later in the day.

Several countries including the United States and France have already repatriated their citizens from Wuhan.

Canada's airlift took longer to be approved by Chinese authorities.

The group of Canadians, permanent residents and a handful of Chinese nationals with visas who accompanied Canadian minors on the flight will remain at the Trenton base for 14 days, the incubation period for the illness.

None of the passengers showed signs of infection, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told public broadcaster CBC, but if they do they will be sent to hospital for care.

She said the evacuees have been under a "tremendous amount of stress," noting some were separated from their children or had to leave others behind.

"Although the passengers won't be interacting with each other, there will be opportunities for them to leave their room" at the Canadian base, she said.

Passengers told local media that most slept through the long flight.

Champagne had said Thursday that two-thirds of the Canadians who sought assistance getting out of Wuhan were expected to return on the two flights.

At last count, 347 Canadians asked to be evacuated.

Another Canadian airlift has been scheduled to depart Wuhan on February 10 and arrive the following day.

Despite tense ties on other issues, Ottawa has commended China for its cooperation during the outbreak. Beijing also singled out Canada for praise for not closing its borders to travelers from China.

Sino-Canadian relations soured in December 2018 over Canada's arrest on a US warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and Beijing's detention on espionage suspicions of two Canadians -- former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor -- in apparent retaliation. 

Canada's ambassador to China Dominic Barton told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that both sides were "very angry" over the tit-for-tat detentions.

"The first conversation I had there was probably one of the most unpleasant conversations I've ever had. I mean, the shaking and anger," he said.

The two nations' foreign ministers also held their first conversation in more than a year recently, to coordinate the airlift, signalling hope of a thaw in relations.

Five cases of coronavirus have so far been confirmed in Canada, and two more suspected cases have been reported.