As scores of his compatriots climbed off an evacuation flight from Wuhan, China, on Friday, Qi (Kevin) Jin was still languishing at ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak — and feeling decidedly abandoned.
The Canadian citizen based in Toronto says he has registered repeatedly with Global Affairs Canada, but heard next to nothing from the department about planes out of Wuhan, where he’s visiting his mother.
His first contact with one of its officials was Wednesday, when he called Canada’s consulate in Shanghai, only to be routed to a number in Ottawa. The person he talked to there said the evacuation plane simply had no room left. There was no mention at all of an American flight that made more than 40 seats available to Candians.
Jin said he’s heard nothing since, as he grows increasingly frustrated by the lack of information from his government.
“Every day (the outbreak) is increasing, increasing, increasing. I feel scared. I want to leave here,” he said in a telephone interview. “They (Canadian officials) should have given me some information. But nobody answered me. Nobody (told) me. Nobody cares about me. I thought, Oh my God, the government only cares about 100 people, or what?”
The experience Jin described raises more questions about a Canadian operation that has already been criticized for its slow pace compared with the evacuation efforts of other nations.
A Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman, Krystyna Dodds, said Saturday privacy rules limit what she can say, but that the government takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad seriously.
“We are aware of Mr. Jin’s situation and are working to support him and other Canadians seeking departure assistance from Wuhan,” she said.
A Canadian-chartered plane did land in Trenton, Ont., on Friday morning with 176 people aboard, mostly Canadian citizens, but also 13 permanent residents and six Chinese nationals escorting minor Canadian children. The jet actually had room for 35 more, but several passengers did not show up.
Another 40 or so Canadians who had been in Wuhan got out on an American aircraft that left shortly afterward.
The federal government has said that a second chartered plane will remove any other citizens who want to leave Wuhan next Monday. Dodds said Saturday that officials are reaching out to those people.
But, like other aspects of Canada’s evacuation plan, Jin said officials had told him nothing as of Friday about the additional flight.
The 59-year-old tour guide has a wife, 10-year-old daughter and 27-year-old son in Toronto, and arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 16, when the Chinese were still playing down the seriousness of the emerging respiratory illness.
He said he first registered on a Global Affairs website Jan. 28, indicating that he was in Wuhan, where thousands have come down with the virus and hundreds have died.
But radio silence followed, even as Jin read online about plans for an evacuation. He finally called the Shanghai consulate on Wednesday, ending up at an Ottawa number.
The Global Affairs official took down information on the friend who had offered to drive him to the airport, but said there was “no chance” he’d get on the plane leaving late Thursday.
Jin said he’s not trying to grab a free ride home courtesy of the government; he already has a ticket on a commercial flight out of Beijing, but cannot take it because of the quarantine around Wuhan.
“If I was in Shanghai, I could fly to Canada,” he said. “In Wuhan, you cannot go anywhere — no car, no train, no plane, no ship.”
He also said he would understand if priority had been given to getting young children and elderly people out of Wuhan first, but officials have not explained to him how Friday’s passenger list was chosen.
(Updates Saturday, Feb. 8 with response from Global Affairs Canada)