Weather delays chartered flight evacuating Canadians stranded in Wuhan

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OTTAWA -- Canadians stranded in a quarantined Chinese city were told Wednesday that a flight set to bring them home was delayed, leaving them stranded in the epicentre of the new coronavirus for another day.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said weather events forced the delay.

"There is a narrow window given by the Chinese for flights into Wuhan and the weather conditions were such that the plane could not take off," Trudeau explained as he entered a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning in Ottawa.

"So everything is delayed by a day. We're hoping to have these families back on Friday," Trudeau added.

"We understand for loved ones here in Canada with families over there that it's extremely difficult but we're doing everything we can to get them home."

Government officials said the delay would put off the return home of the Canadians by about 21 hours.

The flight was supposed to leave Wuhan early Thursday morning local time, but an email from the Canadian Embassy announced it would be delayed to the evening.

"Due to circumstances beyond the control of the Government of Canada, please be advised the departure time has been delayed," read a message forwarded to The Canadian Press by Myriam Larouche, a 25-year-old student from L'Ascension, Que.

Richard Fabic, whose 15-month-old daughter Chloe is among the prospective evacuees, said he, too, received the email and was disappointed by the delay.

Efforts to evacuate Canadians who want out of Wuhan have been slow-going as Ottawa sought permission from Chinese authorities. Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has said the plane would wait in Vietnam until the government received the go-ahead.

Ottawa has said more than 300 Canadians have asked for help to leave Wuhan but the plane has room for only 250 passengers.  

Upon arrival in Canada, the evacuees aboard the upcoming flight from Wuhan will be quarantined at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in southern Ontario for 14 days.

Those planning to take the flight have also been told visits from friends and family will not be permitted to prevent possible transmission of the virus.

Meanwhile off the coast of Japan, a cruise ship carrying 251 Canadians among others has been quarantined following a confirmed outbreak of the new coronavirus.

A statement from Princess Cruises says 10 people have tested positive for the virus, but none are Canadian.

Trudeau said Ottawa is working with the Japanese government on how it can support Canadians on the ship.

"We're trying to get more information about the situation right now, but we're very much engaged," Trudeau said Wednesday. "And again, we want to reassure the families ... that we are alert and engaged in their issue and trying to work with families at home to reassure them as well."

The death toll from the novel coronavirus climbed to 490 on Wednesday, an increase of 65 in a single day. All of the new deaths were in Wuhan. Nearly 25,000 people have been sickened.

In Canada, there are five cases of the illness: three in Ontario and two in British Columbia.

The latest presumptive case is a woman in her 50s in the Vancouver area, who had family visiting from Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

Local public health officials said the case tested positive but they're awaiting official confirmation from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

-- with files from The Associated Press

The Canadian Press

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