Coronavirus outbreak: Four Wuhan evacuees in Whangaparāoa swabbed for illness

Four people evacuated to New Zealand from the coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan have been swabbed, but don't have the deadly illness.

On Wednesday, a Government-chartered Air New Zealand flight evacuated Kiwis, Australians and other foreign nationals from the Chinese centre where the coronavirus is believed to have originated. 

While some Australians were transferred directly to Christmas Island, 157 of the evacuees remain in isolation at a military base in Whangaparāoa.

The Minister of Health said in a statement on Saturday that four had been swabbed on Friday as a precautionary measure during a standard daily health check. None of those swabbed "fitted the definition of a suspected case of novel Coronavirus and all four tests were negative for novel Coronavirus".

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield stressed that it was only a precautionary measure.

"I can tell you everyone at the centre has settled in and we're in constant communication with all our guests at the centre to ensure we offer everyone the most up to date support and advice available."

Officials are trying to keep life as normal as possible for those staying at the facility, with people able to work remotely, leisure activities and catering from commercial contractors. The site was chosen for its size and location.

People who want to drop off parcels can leave them at the local Orewa police station. A no-fly zone is in place over the facility.

Inside the facility.
Inside the facility. Photo credit: Ministry of Health.
Inside the facility.
Inside the facility. Photo credit: Ministry of Health.

Bloomfield also said on Saturday that he hopes other people returning to New Zealand from China self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone who has travelled to the Hubei province - where Wuhan is located - in the last year should isolate themselves and register with Healthline on 0800 358 5453. 

"Registering will help those in self-isolation as much as it helps us - it will mean we can regularly check on people's welfare and wellbeing as well as helping support New Zealand's overall response to novel coronavirus," he said.

"I'm told the uptake from those wishing to register has been strong."

Healthline will provide further details on Sunday.

At least 720 people have died from coronavirus worldwide, with the vast majority of the 34,000 cases detected in China. 

There have been no confirmed cases in New Zealand - which has banned individuals coming to Aotearoa from China if they are not citizens or permanent residents. However, two Kiwis have been tested positive for the illness on a cruise ship docked off Japan. They are currently being treated in a Japanese hospital.

The WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. There is little known about it but has revived fears of the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 which killed almost 800 people.

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness, which is believed to have come from a marketplace in Wuhan. The Chinese city has become a ghost town with thousands of people there contracting the disease and many dying from it.