Coronavirus: Evacuating Kiwis from Wuhan likely to be major diplomatic effort - expert

An international relations expert believes getting New Zealanders out of Wuhan will be a major diplomatic undertaking. 

The Government is teaming up with Australia to evacuate those stuck in the coronavirus epicentre. But the University of Auckland's Professor Stephen Hoadley says China may be reluctant to let people leave.

"The Chinese government is going to have to make some significant concessions to allow foreigners to leave out when they won't leave their own people out of the affected city," Dr Hoadley told Newshub.

He says China will be reluctant to allow foreign aircraft into the coronavirus epicentre.

"I don't anticipate this will happen in the next few days. It could take some time for not only the permission to be gained [but also] the air traffic clearance to be gained."

The death toll from the virus has risen to 132, with around 6000 confirmed cases worldwide.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the situation remained "grim and complex", though scientists in Australia said they had developed a lab-grown version of the virus, a major step towards finding a vaccine.

The virus has spread to more than a dozen countries around the world, and many foreigners who remain in Wuhan are scrambling to get out.

Around 200 American citizens - mainly diplomatic staff and contractors - had been evacuated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

Fifty-three New Zealanders are registered as living in Wuhan, with 20 of those requesting consular help.

On Wednesday, the Government confirmed it would work with Australia to evacuate citizens from both countries. 

Just when and how that would happen, however, remains unclear. Dr Hoadley says "dealing government to government with a government that has censorship, that has a very strict authoritarian system" is a diplomatically complex.

On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was planning a rescue operation for the more than 600 Australians in the city.

"We have taken a decision this morning to prepare a plan for an operation to provide some assisted departures for isolated and vulnerable Australians in Wuhan and the Hubei province," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

"We're putting the plans in place, we're working with the Chinese government to put this in place."

He said the effort was "very much an ANZAC operation".

Australians evacuated from the region would be placed in quarantine on Christmas Island for up to 14 days, Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday confirmed the operation was in the planning stage, but said no details of how it would be pulled off had been finalised yet.

"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."

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health said the likelihood of the virus reaching New Zealand was high, but stressed the probability of a community outbreak was low.

Tourist hotspots around the country are bracing for the virus, though many - such as Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult - are calling for calm heads after false rumours earlier this week that someone infected by the virus was staying in a hotel in the city.

There are also unconfirmed reports that a Chinese student has been placed in isolation in Auckland City Hospital after undergoing tests for possible coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said there were no confirmed cases of the virus in New Zealand.