February 5, 2020 / 12:21 AM / 20 days ago

Flight carrying New Zealanders, Australians leaves virus-hit Wuhan

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY, Feb 5 (Reuters) - A flight carrying New Zealanders, Australians and citizens of smaller Pacific countries who were evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan is expected to arrive in Auckland later on Wednesday, authorities said.

Governments around the world have organised flights to get citizens out of Wuhan, where a newly identified coronoavirus was first detected in December. The outbreak has now killed 490 people in China, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

The Air New Zealand government chartered flight is expected to arrive in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, around 1830 local time (0530 GMT).

New Zealand’s foreign ministry said 193 passengers boarded the plane in Wuhan, including 100 New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, 23 Australian citizens and 70 foreign nationals, mostly from the Pacific islands.

Upon arrival, Australian passengers will be transferred to a flight to Australian-run Christmas Island off the northwest coast, where rest of its Wuhan evacuees are being kept under quarantine for 14 days, the maximum incubation period for the virus.

The remaining evacuees are expected to be quarantined for two weeks in a military base in North Auckland, mostly in motorhomes.

Although no visitors will be allowed on-site, friends and family will be able to send the quarantined people items, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health’s director-general Ashley Bloomfield said.

“It’s not prison. There will be security there...but people will be able to send them stuff in.”

The New Zealand flight follows a Qantas aircraft carrying 241 Australian evacuees that arrived on Christmas Island on Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he has asked for permission for a second evacuation flight out of Wuhan, which he said would likely be Canberra’s last.

“We’ll have another flight going into Wuhan. We’re working on that now,” he told Australia’s Channel 9 on Wednesday.

“And the transfer arrangements to Christmas Island are working very well. And we’ve had no presented cases there on Christmas Island at this point. But what I want to tell people is that they can’t count on a further flight beyond that,” Morrison said.

Australia now has 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

New Zealand and other Pacific countries have no confirmed cases so far.

The total number of infections in China rose to 24,324 as of Tuesday, and around 200 cases have been reported across roughly two dozen countries, Hong Kong and Macau. (Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington and Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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