Winston Peters condemns 'racism and adverse reaction' amid coronavirus outbreak

Winston Peters is condemning "racism and adverse reaction" amid the coronavirus outbreak, and has provided a breakdown of who is on the Air New Zealand flight evacuating people from the Chinese city Wuhan. 

Peters, the Foreign Minister, released a statement on Wednesday confirming 193 passengers boarded the flight, including three Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) consular staff who had been there to facilitate the departure. 

There were five passengers already on the plane and they were MFAT and Ministry of Health staff who had travelled on the flight to Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei Province where the coronavirus originated. 

Peters took questions from reporters in Waitangi on Wednesday and strongly condemned reports of racism against Chinese people in New Zealand since the coronavirus outbreak - despite no confirmed cases here. 

"Racism and adverse reaction does not help at all," The New Zealand First leader said. "We're all in this together because we don't with full certainty [know] what we're dealing with at all.

"If you compare to the Spanish Flu where millions died, this is not the same circumstance, so what we should do is take all the precaution we possibly can, and get on with life and realise that being racist or being nasty or moronic is of no help to anybody."

The Air New Zealand flight chartered to Wuhan in a deal with the Government flew out on Monday and started flying back to New Zealand on Wednesday (NZ time). 

The passengers will be quarantined at a Whangaparaoa military facility. 

There are a number of Australian permanent residents who will be transferred to the Australia flight along with Australian citizens. All other passengers on the plane will go into isolation at Whangaparoa.

The nationalities of the passengers:

  • 54 New Zealand citizens and 44 NZ Permanent Residents on Chinese passports
  • 23 Australian Citizens and 12 Australian Permanent Residents on Chinese passports 
  • 8 British
  • 17 Timor Leste
  • 17 Papua New Guinea
  • 5 Samoa
  • 4 Tonga
  • 2 Fiji
  • 1 Kiribati
  • 1 Federated States of Micronesia 
  • 1 Uzbek
  • 1 Dutch

"We've done the best we can under the circumstances," Peters said. "The big picture is cooperation because we still don't know with exactitude what we're dealing with."

Peters said the Government was happy to accommodate the Australians but did not want New Zealanders quarantined on the Australian administered Christmas Island. 

Australian passengers on arrival into Auckland will be transferred directly to a flight to Australia.

The coronavirus has killed at least 490 people so far and has infected around 23,000 people across the globe as it spreads out of China, despite Wuhan being in lockdown. 

The New Zealand Customs Service announced earlier this week that entering New Zealand will be processed manually through customs to protect against coronavirus until further notice. 

It followed a ban on anyone entering New Zealand from mainland China, announced on Sunday.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is concerned not enough is being done to protect New Zealand from a coronavirus outbreak. 

He also said he thinks it is "wrong" that some of the Air New Zealand flight passengers will be paying for their ticket, with the Government saying it will absorb some of the costs. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday: "These are people who will be paying for a return flight anyway."

"I think the Government should pick up the tab for that," Bridges said. 

The National Party leader also said he is "worried" by reports he's seen about a lack of screening at airports in New Zealand. 

He said he's spoken with MPs who have heard from extended family travelling to New Zealand from China who were given a pamphlet with coronavirus information when they returned and weren't screened. 

"I think the Government's got to be continually stepping up on this and doing better in line with best practice in other countries," Bridges said. 

"China has been more transparent than many might have thought here because they do realise the magnitude of it, but there is no doubt some of the footage we're seeing is very harrowing.

"It's just an awful, difficult situation."