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Govt teams up with Aus to get NZers out of Wuhan

Passengers at Auckland Airport, where flights from Guangzhou and Shanghai had touched down. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

New Zealand will team up with Australia to get citizens out of the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.

In a press conference held this afternoon, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he had spoken with Jacinda and the countries had agreed to cooperate on the operation to get their citizens out of Wuhan.

Jacinda says in a statement that the two countries have confirmed they will work together on a "joint ANZAC assisted departure of Australians and New Zealanders from Wuhan".

"Specific details of the evacuation plan, including the medical protocols that will be applied to returning New Zealanders, and access arrangements on the ground in China are being worked through by officials."

More than 50 New Zealanders are stuck in Wuhan, which is in lockdown to limit the spread of the disease, and many are asking for help to leave the city.

Scott says the Australians would be quarantined on Christmas Island, but it was not clear where the New Zealanders would go.

Scott says children and elderly people in Wuhan will get priority.

He says there was rather a limited window and the Australian government was moving very swiftly to ensure it could put the operation together.

About 600 Australians are registered as being in Hubei province, including about 140 Australian children currently in Wuhan.

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China rose to 131 as health authorities at the epicentre of the epidemic reported another 840 confirmed cases, taking the total to 5355. The flu-like virus has spread overseas to more than a dozen countries.

Earlier today, New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reviewed its travel advise for China, and is now advising New Zealanders to avoid non-essential travel to the country.

An updated notice on the ministry's Safe Travel website said the government had limited ability to provide emergency services to New Zealanders in the province.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Tuesday it was exploring a possible evacuation including a chartered flight out of the city or assistance from the Defence Force. It would not comment on individual cases but said it had responded to about 20 requests for consular assistance.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters will soon talk with the US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien about potentially evacuating New Zealand citizens from Wuhan.

Winston says conversations were also ongoing with other countries including Australia and all options remained open.

But he says any evacuations have to be done in close co-operation with the Chinese authorities, as they are in charge of travel over the border.

Reuters reported fears of the spreading virus led airlines to reduce flights to China and global companies to restrict employee travel to the country. CNBC reported that the White House had told US airlines it may suspend all China-US flights due to the outbreak.

None of the confirmed deaths to date have been outside China. However, confirmations of person-to-person transmission in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan - as opposed to a traveller from China - has heightened concern.

Known as "2019-nCoV", the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.

Tourists leave country

Meanwhile, three tourists tested in Rotorua after possible exposure to the corona virus have now left the country.

The three Chinese tourists arrived in Rotorua on Saturday after previously travelling to Australia on the same flight as a passenger who had the virus.

They were cleared by health officials but were monitored as they continued their holiday.

Bay of Plenty medical officer of health Jim Miller says they left New Zealand yesterday.

The agency had also looked into the sudden death of a Te Puke person who had just returned from China and concluded they did not have corona virus, he says.

RNZ.

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