Coronavirus outbreak: Fears it will arrive in New Zealand no excuse for xenophobia - Queenstown Mayor

NARITA, JAPAN - JANUARY 17: Passengers walk past a thermal scanner upon their arrival at Narita airport on January 17, 2020 in Narita, Japan. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare confirmed yesterday its first case of pneumonia infected with a new coronavirus from Wuhan City, China. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

As coronavirus continues to spread rapidly around the world, Kiwis are being reminded that xenophobia is a criminal offence.

The virus, originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed 81 people so far and infected more than 2750 worldwide.

As fears mount that it could arrive in New Zealand, Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult says it's important to continue to welcome and support overseas tourists.

"It's very unfortunate and the last thing we want is any xenophobic behaviour - saying we're going to stop folk coming here is just plain silly and it's not going to happen."

Boult said the tourist hotspot of Queenstown was preparing for a case of coronavirus.

"We wouldn't be doing the right thing if we didn't have some preparedness around it."

Five cases of coronavirus have already been confirmed in Australia, and on Monday New Zealand's Ministry of Health admitted the likelihood of the virus getting here was "high".

The probability of a community outbreak, however, was low, the ministry said. 

David Hayman, a professor of infectious disease ecology at Massey University, says isolation will be key to stopping the spread here.

"New Zealand is good at that and it has a good record of doing that even with measles, which is very infectious.  So [I'm] cautiously optimistic, but we don't know exactly how things are going to play out," he said.

Despite his optimism, Professor Hayman said there is always more that can be done.

"In the ideal world, of course, you'd screen all flights, or you'd screen every airport."

The World Health Organisation says that while the outbreak is an emergency for China, it is not yet a global health emergency.

The Chinese government announced on Tuesday it would be extending the Lunar New Year holiday by three days in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the virus originated, has been placed in virtual lockdown, and severe limits on movement have been placed in several other cities in China.