A man wears a protective facemask as he walks on the outskirts of the Forbidden City at a New Year installation in Beijing. (Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images)

Crosswinds hold up chartered flight taking Canadians from Wuhan

Ottawa says 373 people have asked for help to leave the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak

More than 200 Canadians due to be evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan should continue making their way to the airport if they are already on their way, even though their flight out of the centre of the new coronavirus outbreak has been delayed another day, Canada’s foreign affairs minister said Wednesday.

The Canadians were scheduled to fly out of China on a government-chartered plane early Thursday morning local time, but Francois-Philippe Champagne said crosswinds kept the plane from leaving Hanoi, Vietnam, where it and its crew have been waiting. It missed the narrow period each day that China has allowed for international evacuations out of the country.

“We’ve missed the window by about four hours due to winds,” Champagne said during a brief update on Parliament Hill.

“The Chinese authorities to my knowledge have not allowed any country to evacuate their people in the daytime because they’re using the airspace in the daytime to bring food and medical supplies. So all of this happens in the nighttime.”

While that meant the evacuation flight would be delayed by about 21 hours, Champagne said anyone already headed to the airport should continue to ensure they could get through the numerous “control points” that have been set up in Wuhan and arrive on time. China has all but locked down the city where the new coronavirus was first detected to try to keep it from spreading.

At the same time, Champagne encouraged Canadians anywhere in China on non-essential business to leave on commercial flights “while they remain available,” noting the situation on the ground has been changing by the day.

More than 500 people have died and tens of thousands have been infected, the vast majority in China but increasingly outside the country as well, since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus known as 2019-nCoV last month.

WATCH: Presumptive case of new coronavirus in B.C.

News of the delayed evacuation flight came as the government was also reaching out to 251 Canadians stranded aboard a cruise ship in Japan. The Japanese government quarantined the vessel after a confirmed case of coronavirus was discovered on board.

“We have our mission in Tokyo, which has been in touch with the Canadians passengers to offer them consular assistance,” Champagne said. “And we will look to the cruise line, in this case, to repatriate those Canadians when the quarantine … is finished.”

Champagne also said the government is still weighing its options for taking more Canadians out of Wuhan once the first flight has left, including whether it should send a second plane or can secure enough space on flights organized by the U.S. and other allies.

The delayed evacuation flight was to carry 211 Canadians out of Wuhan, but Champagne said 373 people had asked the government for assistance in leaving the city.

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