Wednesday, February 5, 2020

With Canadians trapped in Wuhan, Ottawa woman fears violent government crackdown

With Canadians trapped in Wuhan, Ottawa woman fears violent government crackdown

An Ottawa man quarantined in an area of China considered the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak doesn't know when he'll be able to return home to reunite with his wife and two children.
A man cross an empty highway road on Monday in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. GETTY IMAGES
An Ottawa man quarantined in an area of China considered the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return home to reunite with his wife and two children.
And an Ottawa woman whose parents are trapped in Wuhan says she fears the Chinese government’s heavy-handed response to the outbreak will lead to civil disobedience and violence like what happened in Tiananmen Square more than 30 years ago.
Kai Huang travelled to Wuhan on Jan. 9 with his 78-year-old mother, Yi, to help sell her apartment. They were scheduled to return to Canada on Jan. 25, but on Jan. 23 the Chinese government sealed off the city in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Kai Huang, right, and his mother Yi. POSTMEDIA
In a phone interview Tuesday night, Huang said he learned he wasn’t on the priority list for a charter flight out of Wuhan for Canadians. With his mother’s apartment sold, they have to stay at his cousin’s apartment until they get cleared to leave Wuhan.
“It’s dangerous and sad,” Huang said, describing a situation that almost sounds like house arrest.
For food, there’s a limited supply of groceries and prices are very high, he said.
Huang, a program analyst with the RCMP and a Canadian citizen, said he needs to get back home to be with his family. He said he has a baby and 10-year-old son and his wife has a full-time job.
Huang, who lives in the Barrhaven community of Stonebridge, said he has also been contacting the office of his MP, Chandra Arya, to see if he can get political help.
There’s another wrinkle in the family’s evacuation efforts: Huang said he has been informed by the Canadian government that his mother, despite being a permanent resident of Canada, won’t be able to get a seat on a special flight out of Wuhan. That worries Huang because his mother had a stroke last year and it’s hard to get medical treatment in Wuhan if she needs it.
The woman whose parents are similarly trapped in Wuhan is now a Canadian citizen but does not want her name to be used because of her criticism of the Chinese government.
“I’m not just concerned about the medical emergency and the virus outbreak, I think this may lead to something more serious, she said Tuesday. “I’m fearful the current situation will lead to violent political unrest and military oppression.
“I’ve been through Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the current atmosphere in Wuhan feels a lot like Beijing leading up to the horrific event.”
The woman’s parents, both in their 60s and permanent residents of Canada who live in Ottawa, went back to Wuhan in December for the Chinese New Year. They are now trapped in their home, forbidden to go outside and unable to get accurate information about the virus outbreak, the woman said.
“They’re not allowed to leave their home so they don’t know a lot about what’s happening. What they can see is that there’s nobody on the streets,” she said.
“I worry about their safety. When I talk to my dad, he doesn’t believe me. All the people are brainwashed because they don’t have access to information. They just believe whatever is reported in the official media.
“I told them before the lockdown, ‘You guys better leave right now because you won’t be able to leave later.’ But nobody believed me. They said, ‘Oh the government says everything is under control. It’s not possible to contract the virus from person to person.’”
The woman said she’s been following reports on Twitter and on private videos uploaded  by “citizen journalists” who use VPN to circumvent Chinese government control of social media. Videos of confrontations in the streets or of scenes inside the stricken hospitals are banned on WeChat, the Chinese messaging app.


“The citizen reporters, those people are already getting into trouble. Their parents were visited by local authorities,” the woman said. “I have people I grew up with who are doctors in hospitals there. They say now it’s like anarchy. Nobody gives a sh-t. Nobody did anything to help with the situation.
“I think the key for the government is to hold the power. The country is falling apart and they don’t care how many people die from this event. As long as the leaders are in power, nobody cares.”
Neither of her parents has been infected by the virus, although there are several people in their community who have fallen ill, she said.
Both her parents have chronic illnesses — diabetes and high blood pressure — and the 30-day supply of drugs they took with them is running low.
The woman has sent masks, protective eyewear, gauze and medical supplies to her parents, but none of the packages has been delivered.
Police patrol the streets to make sure no one goes outside. She likened it to the decade-long crackdown by Mao Zedong to assert his control over the country in the 1960s and ’70s.
“They turn neighbours against each other. It’s like the Cultural Revolution,” she said. “I think the whole country has gone back decades. All the pressure that was building up under the oppression of the president will get out of control.”
Because her parents are permanent residents and not Canadian citizens, they won’t be allowed to board the flight the Canadian government is organizing to airlift Canadians out of the quarantine zone.
“I contacted Global Affairs and they said they’re not eligible. I contacted my MP and they said there’s nothing they can do,” the woman said.
“I cannot do anything. I’m powerless.”
Twitter: @GetBAC

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