Coronavirus: New Zealand convenes pandemic group as death toll surges

The New Zealand Government has convened the Interagency Pandemic Group and health staff will begin meeting flights from China as the deadly coronavirus sweeps across the world.

On Saturday, four cases of the virus were confirmed across the Tasman, arriving with infected passengers travelling directly from the city of Wuhan. 

Health Minister Dr David Clark says additional measures will be put in place following the arrival of the disease in Australia.

"I'm advised that the risk of an outbreak in New Zealand remains low, but we are increasing our health response at the border as a precaution," he says in a statement on Sunday.

"Health officials began preparations for placing staff at our major airports last week, and we will have that in place for all flights from China tomorrow."

Dr Clark says the Ministry of Health has an incident control team in place and the Government's Interagency Pandemic Group has also been convened.

"In addition, as previously indicated, on Tuesday I will take a paper to Cabinet which will make the novel coronavirus a notifiable disease," he says.

"I want to assure the public that New Zealand is well prepared for these sorts of situations - we are active and alert, but not alarmed."

However, the Government's response to the virus is being criticised by National's Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse, who says the Government is "missing in action".

"Cases are continuing to emerge in Australia, the USA and the EU, while Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned that the virus is accelerating and labelled the spread 'a grave situation'," he said in a statement on Sunday.

"The Government is failing to address the issue and ensure New Zealanders' safety. There needs to be serious precautionary measures taken and these need to be communicated to the New Zealand public to ensure people's safety.

"Schools will be going back soon and that means an influx of international students will be coming, yet the Government has failed to provide any reassurance or information on how this will be managed to parents and students."