Coronavirus: Simon Bridges urges officials to 'bring home' New Zealanders in Wuhan

Simon Bridges is urging officials to bring home New Zealanders stuck in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus originated, which is currently under lockdown. 

Bridges, leader of the Opposition, said it's time to "bring home" New Zealanders in Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Hubei Province in central China with a population of more than 11 million people. 

"A responsible Government would be looking after its people," Bridges, leader of the National Party, said on Tuesday. "Countries around the world are evacuating their citizens and putting them in quarantine for 14 days." 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) confirmed on Monday there are currently 21 New Zealanders in Wuhan and that the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing is providing assistance to these individuals and families.

Several nations, including France, Japan and the US, have made efforts to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, as the death toll rises to 81 in China and more than 2700 cases of the virus have been confirmed in more than a dozen countries. 

French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn told reporters earlier this week that French citizens in Wuhan would be evacuated directly back to France where cases of the virus have been confirmed, a French news agency said.  

The United States and Japanese governments have also confirmed plans to evacuate their citizens. The Chinese government has offered "necessary assistance" to aid those missions, according to the Financial Times.  

Bridges said Government officials have been too slow reacting to the outbreak, although there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in New Zealand. 

"Our MPs have been inundated with questions from the public about the coronavirus and what will happen if it reaches New Zealand. Schools are trying to get prepared, as well as tour operators and accommodation providers in case the worst should happen."

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said it's important to "be realistic here" and that New Zealand has to work with the Chinese authorities who have put in place a containment strategy.

"If you're looking at bringing people back to New Zealand you'd have to know for a start that you're not bringing an offshore crisis onshore to New Zealand," he told Magic Talk. 

He said New Zealand would need to have a "special arrangement" to bring Kiwis back.

"It's far more complex than the superficial comments I've been hearing."

The New Zealand Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate-General in Shanghai and Guangzhou have been closed for Chinese New Year, and Bridges said officials should have been told to go back to work to help with the response. 

He pointed to comments made by New Zealanders trapped in Wuhan who have urged the Government to do more to get citizens out of the infected city.   

"We have a desperate family telling the media they fear they'll die of the virus or die of starvation. The Government needs to act to protect them."

MFAT's travel advisory for China currently advises New Zealanders to avoid non-essential travel to Hubei Province due to the coronavirus outbreak, and this is under review, officials said on Monday. 

"We are aware that some countries are providing their citizens with assistance to depart Wuhan," the Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

"We are working closely with our China posts and consular partner countries regarding how best to assist New Zealanders in Wuhan.

"We encourage all New Zealanders living and travelling in China to register their details on SafeTravel in order to receive updated government travel advice."

Those details can be found here.  

New Zealand's response to the coronavirus outbreak has included safety measures at Auckland and Christchurch airports with the Government deploying nurses to assess arrivals from flights arriving from China. 

Dr Bloomfield said it is currently "under active consideration" whether people from flights arriving in New Zealand from Australia will be screened since there have been confirmed cases. 

District Health Boards (DHBs) have developed a hand-out and information post to display at the airports to circulate around flight passengers. 

Chinese officials have confirmed the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan originated from a seafood wholesale market, but it's not yet clear which animal was carrying the virus.