Canadians in quarantine: What should evacuees expect on their return?
TORONTO -- Preparations are underway at the country’s largest air force base in Ontario in anticipation of the arrival of 250 Canadian evacuees who have been in lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus.
The Canadian citizens are expected to board a chartered plane in China on Thursday evening local time before arriving at the Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Quinte West, Ont., located approximately 170 kilometres east of Toronto.
From there, they will be transported to Yukon Lodge, a 290-room motel-like accommodation situated on the base. The facility is regularly used to house military families and other visitors to the base.
The Canadian returnees will then spend 14 days in quarantine to ensure they have not been infected with the new respiratory virus, which has infected more than 24,500 people globally and resulted in 492 deaths.
On Monday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters the quarantine is necessary to allow for “a full health assessment, follow-up assessment by public health officials, and support services as needed.”
Bill Glisky, the managing editor for InQuinte.ca, said the quarantined Canadians will be housed in relative comfort during their stay on the base.
“It really is, for all intents and purposes, a hotel. It’s not a luxury hotel, but it’s very comfortable,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
During the 14-day period, Glisky said the facility’s regular staff won’t be working and he suspects the evacuees will be cared for by employees with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
If anyone develops symptoms of coronavirus, Hajdu said the traveller would be transported in coordination with the provincial health authorities to a local hospital for “further treatment, isolation, and contact tracing.”
While the logistics of their stay at the base have been arranged, their psychological wellbeing in quarantine is another matter.
The Canadians in Wuhan have already been waiting in lockdown since Jan. 23 when the Chinese government imposed strict controls on the city of 11 million people in an effort to contain the outbreak. Once they land in Canada, they will face another two weeks of restrictions.
Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, said the psychological effects of being held in quarantine can vary for each person.
“Some people do quite well, they cope reasonably well,” he told CTV’s News Channel on Tuesday. “Other people, they find it very difficult.”
Taylor said the nature of the quarantine contributes to how well people do during that period.
“Whether people are prepared, told what to expect. Whether it’s a situation where they have clear expectations about how long they’ll be there, the degree of isolation. Will they have contact with family and friends in quarantine?” he said.
On Monday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government would be offering the quarantined individuals social support and mental health services during their stay in Trenton “given the stressful experiences many of these passengers will undergo or have undergone.”
The health minister said part of the reason they’re providing these services is because the passengers will be kept separate from each other during the 14 days.
“They will be isolated from one another. The isolation isn’t just for the group, it’s actually individuals who are isolated from one another,” she said during the press conference.
Those who may be struggling with the quarantine conditions may exhibits signs of irritability, insomnia, worry, and agitation, Taylor said.
For children, the psychologist said factors such as their support system and if they have enough activities contribute to how well they cope in quarantine. He said children are more likely to display physical signs, such as headaches or stomach aches, if they’re struggling.
As for what happens when they’re released from quarantine, Taylor said they may have to deal with stigma in their communities. However, he said the stigma is often short-lived and people can usually just “tough it out” until it passes.
More than 300 Canadians have asked to be evacuated from Wuhan, but the plane only has room for 250 passengers. It’s still unclear if a second chartered flight will be sent to take the others to Canada.