Pacific Islanders to be assisted in Kiwi coronavirus rescue

The Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters, says Pacific Islanders will be given priority assistance as part of a New Zealand’s mission to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan. 

The Kiwi Government is chartering an Air New Zealand plane to complete the mission to evacuate people who remain in the central Chinese city of 11 million people which went into lockdown earlier this month in an attempt to contain the coronavirus. 

News of the evacuation comes a day after Jacinda Ardern announced that her Government was working on a joint operation with Australia. 

More than 100 New Zealanders have registered themselves on the Safetravel service as being in Wuhan. The Government has agreed with the national carrier to arrange a plane that can carry 300 people from Wuhan to New Zealand.

Any remaining seats on the Air New Zealand flight would be allocated to Pacific Islanders and Australians "as a matter of priority", said Vaovasa.

New Zealand's Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, clarified that students from the Pacific Islands would be included in the New Zealand rescue mission: "Pacific student numbers are small and Pacific and Australians will be assisted as a priority".

On Friday, China had reported 9692 confirmed cases of a new virus with a death toll of 213, as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak that has spread to more than a dozen countries a global emergency. 

These numbers represent a 25 per cent increase in confirmed cases and 61 per cent increase in deaths, covering the past 24 hours.

Despite these numbers, the Samoan Government says it has no plans to evacuate Samoan students studying in China.

Peseta Noumea Simi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.), said  students will remain in Wuhan under the care of the authority of their universities alongside 70-plus other Pacific students.

"Their situation remains carefully monitored and supported by the Samoa Embassy in Beijing until there is advice from the Chinese authorities on any changes to the current 'lock down' of the city," Peseta said.

It is unclear when the plane will depart. The Government is continuing to work with local authorities and to arrange quarantine methods for those on the plane.

But the mission may be just days away with Vaovasa saying a charter plane is "almost wheels-up" pending final sign-off.

In a controversial decision taken this week, Australian authorities said its own citizens being evacuated would be forced to partly cover the cost of their flights and subsequent quarantining. Australians will be forced to spend 14 days on Christmas Island, one of the most far flung pieces of Australian territory, 

American citizens, by contrast, have been allowed to return home after spending only three days spent in quarantine.

While the New Zealand Government is yet to say how long it will quarantine incoming passengers for it has said they will certainly be subject to isolation. 

The novel coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, was first identified in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province. 

A Samoan student based in Wuhan said it seems safer to "ride out" the virus than to leave the city.

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