Plane Turns Around, Flies Back to Canada After Passenger Claims to Have Coronavirus: Police

February 5, 2020 Updated: February 5, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

A plane had to turn around and fly 1,000 miles back home because a man on board claimed to have caught the Wuhan coronavirus.

On Monday, a WestJet flight from Toronto, Canada, to Montego Bay, Jamaica, turned around after a man declared that he had contracted coronavirus.

The Peel Regional Police said James Potok, 28, was charged with criminal mischief after “he stood up and announced that he had been to China and has the coronavirus,” which was shared with the pilots and flight crew. A decision was then made to return the flight to Pearson Airport.

The man was assessed by medical staff upon arrival and was declared coronavirus-free, according to police. The man was charged and is due in court in March.

WestJet told the CBC that the crew followed safety protocols.

“We were just over Florida and all of a sudden we felt the plane do a pretty dramatic turn,” Julie-Anne Broderick told CBC News. “We were flying in the opposite direction all of a sudden and it said our final destination was back in Toronto. So we were very confused and worried.”

The man, she said, was taking a selfie and told passengers that he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

“The flight attendants came, gave him a mask and gloves and just told him that he had to move to the back of the plane,” she said.

Broderick noted that the captain told passengers that he believes the entire incident was a hoax.

“I guess this guy thought it was a funny joke but it’s just really weird. We were all very frustrated, to just displace 240 people. It’s just so selfish. We’ve lost a day of our vacation,” she was quoted by the broadcaster as saying.

There were 243 passengers on the plane. Meanwhile, two other flights were canceled due to the incident, the broadcaster reported.

On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened an emergency response group to discuss the coronavirus outbreak in China and efforts to curb the spreading to the virus in his country.

“The government remains fully engaged on the issue, and will do all that is necessary to ensure the safety of Canadians, both at home and abroad,” Trudeau said in a statement after the meeting. A chartered plane will also be flown to Chinese coronavirus epicenter Wuhan, in Hubei Province, to evacuate Canadian nationals there.

And as of Tuesday, five people had tested positive for the mysterious new virus in Canada. Three patients have been confirmed in Toronto and two in Vancouver.

In the United States, there have been 11 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington state, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arizona.