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Expat family expecting baby soon hopes Britain can get them out of China

Tom Williams along with his wife Lauren and son James are seen in this undated handout photo. 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. 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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Tom Williams *MANDATORY CREDIT*

A teacher who is living with his pregnant Canadian wife and child in a city that is the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak is hoping to get out of the country on a British flight.

Tom Williams is hoping to get his wife, Lauren, who is about 35 weeks pregnant out of Wuhan, a city that has been essentially locked down with the emergence of the disease. The couple also has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, James, who is Canadian.

Williams is a British expat and his wife and son are from British Columbia.

“We’re just currently waiting to hear confirmation whether we’ve got space on the British flight,” Williams told The Canadian Press in a FaceTime interview from China on Wednesday.

The family received a call from officials in Ottawa earlier this week who asked permission to share his wife’s file with the British embassy, he said.

“We have some stuff laid out in case it’s a last-minute departure.”

The virus has killed 132 people and infected more than 6,000 on the Chinese mainland and abroad.

The Williams family is among 126 Canadians who the federal government says have asked for help leaving Wuhan.

In Ottawa on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government is “looking at all options.”  

“Every Canadian that has reached out to us for consular assistance will receive it,” he said.

At least 250 Canadians have registered with Global Affairs Canada to say they are in Wuhan, said Champagne, who added that officials are trying to contact everyone to assess their needs. He said Canada will tailor its response based on what it learns.

Williams said looking at options isn’t really helping people on the ground, although he understands that Canada doesn’t have a diplomatic presence in Wuhan, a city of 11 million. Canadian offices in Beijing and Shanghai are closed until Sunday for the Lunar New Year holiday.

“We’re just a little anxious and hoping for some answers pretty soon,” said Williams, who added that he and his family are “still healthy and still OK.”

The family went out during the day Wednesday and the streets were “very quiet,” he said. They take their temperatures whenever they enter and leave their apartment complex.

James was watching “Toy Story” Wednesday afternoon.

“He’s a little bit clingy, but we’re doing our best with train sets and different things. Trying to keep him entertained.”

Canadian Wayne Duplessis, who teaches in China, said he and his family registered with the emergency response centre in Ottawa to know what help may be available in Wuhan.

But Duplessis, who is originally from Espanola, Ont., said he is not looking to leave.

Most people he knows are taking the situation in stride, although  he said there is “a certain resignation” and “despair.” Duplessis and his family members take their temperatures every morning at breakfast.

More restrictions have been placed on cars and some people are worried those might affect day-to-day activities such as getting groceries, he said.

From his 28th floor balcony, Duplessis said he could see the highway, usually buzzing with activity, was empty.

“The IKEA mall across the street is empty, which is too bad. There’s great lunches there,” he said.

“An IKEA meatball lunch would be nice right now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2020   

By Hina Alam, The Canadian Press