Hundreds of Auckland school students told to stay home amid coronavirus concerns

Hundreds of Auckland school children have been told to miss the start of the school year due to coronavirus concerns.

A third of Albany's Pinehurst School roll have been asked to stay home for up to two weeks after recently returning from China, or being in contact with others who have been there.

"We had 300 absences today. We have been very active in contacting all of our families over the past five days and keeping a detailed schedule of all pupils whom we believe might have visited the affected areas, or been in contact with someone who has," Pinehurst School principal Alex Reed told Newshub.

"We have strongly encouraged all students who have had a potential exposure to remain at home, and all have voluntarily done so. These students have either been in China recently, or have been in contact with someone who has recently travelled there. We are very proud of our community's response to our request."

Reed confirmed that to the school's knowledge, none of the students are ill or showing any signs of respiratory illness, adding that the measures are "entirely precautionary".

Yet Pinehurst School is just one of many schools taking the same measure.

Sixty-one students from Auckland's Diocesan School for Girls also missed out on their first day on Tuesday due to health concerns.

The pupils, who have recently returned from China, were also told to stay home. 

"We require them to take a two-week stand down from their arrival date back in New Zealand and we think that's important, it's a good precautionary measure," school principal Heather McRae told Newshub.

Other schools around the country have been advised to do the same.

Flights arriving in New Zealand from China are now being met by public health officials - but concern is mounting for those who want to return from China, but can't.

Fifty-three Kiwis are among the millions in lockdown in Wuhan and 20 have requested consular assistance.

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says travel restrictions, screening and quarantine would make evacuations tough.

"Chinese officials made it very clear that it will be very difficult to get foreign nationals out of Hubei province even if they are healthy," Ardern said in a press conference on Tuesday.

The National Health Coordination Centre was set up on Tuesday, Health Minister David Clark announcing that the virus has been made a notifiable disease - giving health officials increased power to isolate patients if a case occurs.

There have been no reported cases in New Zealand as of Tuesday, but officials from the Ministry of Health say the likelihood of a case emerging is high.

The death of a person in the Bay of Plenty who had recently travelled to China is being investigated for coronavirus, but it's unlikely the cause.

World Health Organisation officials have confirmed the original source of the virus at a seafood market in Wuhan.

China's response is the biggest virus containment effort ever imposed - more than 50 million people are under lockdown in a desperate bid to stop the spread.

The virus has killed 106 people and a further 4500 people have been infected.