29 Jan 2020

Wuhan coronavirus: Govt to team up with Australians to get NZers out of city

4:03 pm on 29 January 2020

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.

Staff members take passengers' body temperature at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 21, 2020.

Staff members take passengers' body temperature at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 21, 2020. Photo: AFP

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

Ardern said 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.

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

Morrison said children and elderly people in Wuhan will get priority.

He said 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.

Peters said conversations were also ongoing with other countries including Australia and all options remained open.

But he said 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 montitored as they continued their holiday.

Bay of Plenty medical officer of health Jim Miller said 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 said.

Visa delays

Immigration New Zealand has warned visas may be delayed after its Beijing office was closed due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing is Immigration New Zealand's (INZ) only Chinese office and one of only two major branches remaining overseas after a restructure in the last two years.

Its work includes tourist, student and partnership visas.

In a snapshot from one day in July last year, it was dealing with about 3000 visitor visas from all over the world.

"Immigration New Zealand's Beijing office has been impacted by the closure of schools and businesses until 3 February due to coronavirus," it said in a website post yesterday.

"There may be some impact on visa processing timeframes, particularly if the closure is extended.

"INZ is actively managing the situation and applications are being processed through other INZ offices."

It comes at a time when some customers have already been suffering long waits for visas, after half of INZ's offices were closed and their work centralised in Mumbai, Beijing and remaining Pacific and New Zealand offices.

Visa application form to travel Immigration a document Money for Passport Map and travel plan

Officials say timeframes for visas will worsen if Immigration New Zealand's Beijing office is closed for a long time. Photo: 123RF

House of Travel spokesperson Brent Thomas said the impact would be minimal.

"It's a low season at this stage. So normally people who are travelling to China are booking to go up in our winter their summer, that is more in the months of June, July, August ... and corporate travellers at this stage are only just getting back to doing their bookings, and again this is a low season for corporate travellers."

Samoa coronavirus precautions

Samoa has introduced travel restrictions in response to the global outbreak of coronavirus.

Samoan authorities now require all travellers to undergo a medical clearance at least three days before travelling to the country.

Anyone travelling from a novel coronavirus-affected country must spend 14 days in a non-affected country before entering Samoa or face deportation.

The New Zealand government's Safe Travel website [https://www.safetravel.govt.nz/news/samoa-coronavirus-preventative-measures also says all travellers from 2019 novel coronavirus-affected countries must spend at least 14 days in a country free of 2019 novel coronavirus and undergo medical clearance prior to travel to Samoa.

There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Samoa, but a state of emergency was declared there last year during a measles outbreak.

US flights cancelled

US airlines, including United Airlines, said they were canceling some flights to China today as demand fell sharply and global companies told their employees not to travel.

The United States had previously warned Americans should reconsider visiting China.

Facebook became the first major US company to announce a travel suspension after the US government's warning, saying it had asked employees to halt non-essential travel to mainland China and to work from home if they had traveled there.

Chicago-based United said it was suspending 24 US flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai between Febuary 2 and Febuary 9 due to a significant drop in demand.

The White House had not asked for a suspension of flights, a senior Trump administration official said today.

The official's comment followed a report by CNBC that the White House had told airline executives it was considering a suspension of US-China flights.

Hong Kong travel restrictions

Hong Kong has announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and mainland China as the new coronavirus continues to spread.

High-speed trains and ferries that cross the border will be suspended from Thursday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced.

Flights to mainland China will be halved. Chinese authorities said they would stop issuing travel permits for mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong and neighbouring Macau.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announces travel restrictions.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announcing travel restrictions. Photo: AFP

On Monday, Germany and Japan confirmed that they had cases involving people who had not travelled to China but caught the virus from someone who had.

This had previously been seen only in Vietnam, which borders China and where someone was infected by his father who had travelled from Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Several foreign governments with large numbers of citizens in Wuhan are planning air evacuations.

Wuhan, as well as the wider Hubei province, are already effectively in a lockdown with strict transport restrictions in and out of the area. Wearing masks in public is now mandatory in some Chinese cities.

On Monday, authorities in Beijing confirmed that a 50-year-old man had died - the first fatality in the Chinese capital.

International situation

According to the World Health Organisation and national authorities, there have been more than 50 confirmed cases outside China but no deaths.

14 cases: Thailand

6 cases: Japan

5 cases: USA, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan

4 cases: Malaysia, South Korea, France

2 cases: Vietnam

1 cases: Nepal, Canada, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Germany

Japan is expecting to evacuate about 200 nationals on a chartered plane today, with health workers on board to monitor passengers.

The European Commission announced on Tuesday that it would start helping to repatriate Europeans. There will be two flights from Wuhan to Europe, the first today and the second later in the week. About 250 French citizens will be on the first flight and more than 100 citizens of other EU countries will be on the second, the Commission said.