Jacinda Ardern confirms 'no decision taken' to evacuate New Zealanders from Wuhan

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed the Government has no plans to evacuate New Zealanders in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus originated, which is currently under lockdown. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said on Monday there were 21 New Zealanders in Wuhan, but the Prime Minister said on Tuesday there are actually 53, and 20 of them have contacted MFAT for assistance. 

No decision has been taken to deploy charter flights or military assets to evacuate the New Zealanders stuck in Wuhan, the Prime Minister said at her post-Cabinet press conference.

Several nations, including France, Japan and the US, have made efforts to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, as the death toll rises to 106 in China and more than 4193 cases of the virus have been confirmed nationwide. 

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.  

The Prime Minister said the situation is different for the US because "they have government workers on the ground in the province... we do not". 

She said with the restrictions put in place by Chinese officials, the Government is "having conversations" about how it would be possible to access those citizens reaching out for help from the New Zealand Embassy.  

Ardern pointed to other nations that have not announced plans to evacuate their citizens from the city, including Canada and the United Kingdom. 

"Chinese officials made it clear it will be difficult to get foreign nationals out even if they are healthy," Ardern said, because of how the city is in lockdown. "We are keeping in close contact with consular partners."

Health Minister David Clark joined the Prime Minister and said the National Health Coordination Centre has been activated to coordinate the response to the outbreak. 

The Prime Minister said she will be speaking with Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, where five cases have been confirmed. 

It's been reported Australia is considering how to evacuate citizens. 

Opposition leader Simon Bridges said it's time to "bring home" New Zealanders in Wuhan, and that a "responsible Government would be looking after its people". 

He 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."