21 Jan 2020

NZers reconsider Chinese New Year flights amid Wuhan outbreak

7:30 pm on 21 January 2020

Australia is the latest country to screen plane passengers from Wuhan, a Chinese city that is in the middle of a type of viral pneumonia.

A medical staff member walks outside the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated (January 18, 2020).

A medical staff member walks outside the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated (January 18, 2020). Photo: STR / AFP

Direct flights from Wuhan to Sydney will be met by border security and bio-security staff providing information and looking out for anyone who has a fever or suspicious syptoms.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said there was no need for alarm, and the risk to the Australian public is low.

"In response to this significant development over the weekend and because Australia has significant numbers of international travellers from Wuhan and from China, we're putting in place some additional proportionate border measures."

The number of people infected with the virus tripled over the weekend, with the outbreak spreading from Wuhan to other major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

There are now more than 200 cases, mostly in Wuhan but with cases also in Beijing and Shanghai. An 89-year-old man living in Wuhan was the fourth person to die of the new strain of coronavirus, which causes a type of pneumonia.

Authorities have confirmed the disease can be passed from person to person.

Japan, Thailand and South Korea have also reported cases.

There are no border or travel restrictions in place in New Zealand, but some Chinese New Zealanders have changed their plans of flying to China for the Lunar New Year.

An Auckland man, who did not want to be named, said his New Zealand-produced masks were in high demand in China.

"We do have some high-end face masks and orders keep coming from Wuhan. Because it's Chinese new year time, it's very hard to get logistics. Last night, I was sorting out the logistics, trying to ship some big shipments of the face masks into Wuhan."

The man, who was from Wuhan himself, said he had decided not to go back for the upcoming Lunar new year because family and friends in China warned him not to do so.

He said there was no need to panic - but he was a bit worried.

"I think once you keep your hands tidy and you wear a face mask, you should be fine. I do worry more about my family members and the whole situation - my hometown city, how's it going to be? What's the government going to do and how many people are getting infected," he said.

Auckland woman Fiona He had just come back to Auckland after visiting families in Wuhan last week.

"Nothing to be worried so much. I've read the news but I didn't feel it's that serious. At the airports, it's just the normal check when you go out of the customs."

She said it seemed that people outside of Wuhan are more concerned and locals actually looked relaxed when she was there.

"I didn't feel people worry so much. It's near Chinese new year, everybody is preparing the big dinner on new year's eve or to go somewhere. Not many people were actually talking about it," she said.

Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said there had been no reported cases of the virus in New Zealand, and the World Health Organization had not advised any travel or border restrictions.

"The Ministry is keeping a close watch on developments and has been in frequent communication with the health and border sector to give advice ... we will update our advice as further information becomes available."

Auckland Airport said in a statement that it has received no advisories from Immigration New Zealand, the Civil Aviation Authority or the Ministry of Health relating to the coronavirus outbreak in China.

"The airport would act upon any advisory received," it said.

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