Pregnant Canadian woman stuck in Wuhan, China, coronavirus epicentre

A teacher who is living with his pregnant wife and child in a city that is at the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak is hoping to get his family out safely.

Tom Williams is a British expat who has been living and working for about five years in Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei province in China.

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His wife Lauren, who is from Langley, B.C., is about 35 weeks pregnant, he said in a telephone interview from Wuhan. He also has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, James, who was born in White Rock, B.C.

"We are quarantined in the city," he said.

While he said things are "pretty calm" and "under control" he noted the road closures have added a "little bit of worry" for when they will have to get his wife to the maternity hospital. She is due in the middle of February, he said.

"We’re due to give birth in Wuhan. That’s becoming a little bit more risky as time goes on," Williams said. "It’s a changing picture. It’s changing everyday. New stuff and new guidelines going on."

He contacted the emergency hotline for the Canadian embassy over the weekend, he said.

Staff there put him through to Ottawa and he said he was told that he and his family should stay put.

"There’s no imminent plans to evacuate Canadians from the city," Williams said, adding that he would like to get out of Wuhan "as soon as possible," but was prepared for the alternative.

"If I have to stay behind, so be it. As long as my wife is guaranteed a safe birth."

Other countries need to follow the lead of the United States, which has had a flight approved while working with the Chinese authorities, he said.

"Particularly for people who are at higher risk."

China has now reported more than 2,700 cases of the new virus with at least 80 deaths, and officials say the rate at which it's spreading is accelerating.

In a news conference in Ottawa Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said 167 Canadian citizens in the affected region have registered their whereabouts with the federal government, a voluntary move that helps Canada keep track of them and get them information.

Eight of those have requested some form of "consular assistance," he said.

Canada doesn't have a standing diplomatic presence specifically in Wuhan. Some of its allies, such as the United States, have large consulates, which they're evacuating. They're taking some particularly vulnerable citizens with them on charter flights, where there's room alongside the diplomatic staff.

Canada does have a hotline for Canadians to call if they need help.

"We are also liaising with our international partners to ensure options to ensure the safety and well-being of all Canadians who need consular assistance in China," Champagne said.

In Wuhan, Williams said local shops are still open and well-stocked, however, some of the roads are allowing only approved vehicles.

"If you are more central in the city or closer to the epicentre of the virus then there are only approved vehicles allowed on those."

People have to wear masks according to guidelines and local authorities are checking peoples' temperatures, he said.

Williams and his family are not in the central part of the city, so cars are still allowed but there’s very little traffic, he said.

Although the situation is "sad and upsetting," Williams said he’s quite peaceful about it.

"It is what it is. You can't control these things sometimes," he said. "We’re trying to have hope instead of fear."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.

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