Coronavirus: Air New Zealand flight chartered to assist New Zealanders leaving Wuhan

An Air New Zealand flight will be chartered to assist New Zealanders stranded in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus originated, which is currently under lockdown.

The Government has agreed with the national airline - 53 percent owned by the Government - to charter the flight to the the sprawling capital of the Hubei Province in central China with a population of more than 11 million people.

The aircraft will have capacity for around 300 passengers and will fly from Wuhan to New Zealand, and officials will be working through operational requirements with Air New Zealand and Chinese authorities.   

"We are pleased to have been able to offer this assistance to New Zealanders in a challenging situation," Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said on Thursday.

"We encourage all New Zealanders in the Hubei region to register on SafeTravel and ensure all their details are accurate and up to date. This will give us a better understanding of the level of demand for this flight."

Those who do take a seat on the plane will be required to pay a nominal fee, Peters said, however the Government will absorb most of the cost. 

Air New Zealand chief executive Jeff McDowall said the Government asked the airline to operate a charter flight to Wuhan in the "coming days" to repatriate New Zealanders seeking to go home. 

"Our Operational Integrity and Standards team are working with the New Zealand Government on timings and operational requirements, including route."

McDowall said on Thursday afternoon the airline called for volunteers to operate the service and that there has already been an "overwhelming response". 

"The health and wellbeing of our people is our top priority and we will be working closely with health authorities and our medical team on safe protocol."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday there are currently 53 New Zealanders in Wuhan, and 20 of them had contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) for assistance.

At the time she said the Government had no plans to evacuate the New Zealanders, despite several nations including France, Japan and the US announcing plans to do so.

The Government changed its tune and announced on Wednesday that New Zealand will work together on a joint ANZAC assisted departure of Australians and New Zealanders from Wuhan.

Peters confirmed earlier on Thursday that New Zealanders would be quarantined in New Zealand and not on Christmas Island, as has been suggested for Australians.

Peters said the Air New Zealand flight will be offering any additional seats to Pacific Island and Australian citizens as a "matter of priority".

"This is a complex operation as we work through all the necessary requirements but we are working to have the aircraft depart as soon as possible."

He said consular teams will be working with health officials to ensure that the risks of transmission of the virus to New Zealand are carefully managed throughout the evacuation process.

Officials are developing procedures for pre-departure health screening of passengers, infection control inflight, and isolation of all passengers arriving in New Zealand for up to two weeks.

The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 162, with more than 6000 cases confirmed so far, the majority in China.

It has spread to more than a dozen countries, including Australia.

The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, confirmed on Thursday there are still no confirmed cases in New Zealand.