Making Decisions on Bringing Citizens Home from Wuhan

The surge in confirmed cases of the Coronavirus is propelling countries to make decisions on how to safeguard their citizens and other interests.  The question is, are these leaders equipped to make the right decisions, and what are their motivations?  Motivation is one of the underpinning aspects of decision-making.

Some countries’ decision-making leans towards the political, while others are making economic based decisions, yet others are making public safety decisions.

We are also battling many unknowns with the Coronavirus.  There is still debate about the incubation period of the virus.  The CDC has stated that the incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 14 days.  We do now know that infected people can be asymptomatic while spreading the disease.  This is great cause for concern.

Based on the few and still emerging facts, countries are making decisions on how or if they should lift their citizens out of Wuhan, the epicenter, and bring them home.  Each country seems to be doing things a little differently.

Australia has taken the lead to airlift its citizens out of Wuhan and is quarantining them on an island for 14 days.  This decision mitigates the risk that once these citizens enter the population they will no longer spread the virus to others in the country.  14 days is the outer perimeter of the decision basis.

The USA has taken a slightly different stance, airlifting over 200 citizens out of the epicenter and quarantining them on a military base in California.  This seems prudent, however the quarantining period is 3 days, which puts other US citizens at some risk, based on the parameters.

Update at Jan 31: The USA is now quarantining returning citizens for 14 days

Japan has completed 2 missions of airlifting its citizens.  On the initial plane of 206 citizens, 3 were confirmed to have the Coronavirus, while 2 people refused to be tested.  These 2 were sent home.  They could have the virus and easily spread it amongst the local population.  This increases risk exponentially. 

Canada meanwhile plays its political game.  Has no concrete plan in place, but does have an automated phone line setup for Canadians in Wuhan to call.  The Canadian government is apparently working on a plan to repatriate its citizens.  What the plan is once they get here, is anybody’s guess.

The idea is to reduce the risk of spread to 0 or close to 0.  Given the parameters, if Canada chooses to airlift its citizens out of Wuhan, then here’s what must happen.

  1. Citizens must be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days. 
  2. The expectation should be that if you are getting on a flight to come home, you will be tested for Coronavirus, no choice given. 
  3. And once you have landed and pass the quarantine period you will be required to follow up with a medical professional to ensure you are still clear

Zero risk to local populations is not to bring citizens home, but there is a humane argument for that. With medical supplies and care dwindling in China, and the virus spreading increasingly, we need to make appropriate caring decisions for citizens that are still there, while keeping public safety the focal point for local populations.

Even if this virus does not cause a global pandemic, one will and soon. Which means that we need a global action plan to mitigate the risk of spread of any future viruses that arise. Now would be a good time to start planning, but again we are at the mercy of our policy makers and political leaders.

What I believe we can all agree on is that making the wrong decision based on incorrect motivations can have detrimental consequences in a case like this. 

Some people say it is best to let people stay in Wuhan. Others believe it is best to bring citizens home.  What do you think?  And how should it be done?  Let me know in the comments below.

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