Comprehensive health measures will be in place to prevent New Zealanders returning from Wuhan spreading the novel coronavirus, Health Minister Dr David Clark says.
An Air New Zealand charter flight is on track to evacuate dozens of New Zealanders, Pacific Islanders and Australian citizens in coming days. Final timing of the flight and passenger details are still to be confirmed, in consultation with Chinese authorities.
"The Government is doing all it can to help those New Zealanders at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan to return home as soon as possible," Dr Clark says.
"We know this is a difficult and stressful time for those people stuck in Wuhan and their families. It’s important they receive the best possible care, but also that effective public health measures are in place to ensure the welfare of both passengers and crew.
"A key part of the process is now complete, with health planning finalised for pre-flight checks, in-flight safety measures and isolating passengers for 14 days upon arrival in New Zealand.
"Chinese authorities are already conducting temperature checks for all passengers who are departing from Wuhan," says Dr Clark.
"In addition, New Zealand St John staff, which includes a medical director and two paramedics, and an Air New Zealand doctor will conduct further health checks prior to boarding.
"These checks will ensure all passengers are fit to fly.
"Measures are also being taken to ensure the safety of all the staff on the flight. Infection control gear will be worn whenever they come into close contact with passengers.
"Health staff will monitor passengers (who will be provided with facemasks) and give them advice during the flight.
"The charter flight will land some distance from the main terminal in Auckland and further health screening will be conducted.
"Standard border control measures, such as biosecurity checks will be completed as a matter of priority," he says.
"It is expected that any Australian citizens and residents will be transferred on to a dedicated flight (with its own health measures in place) across the Tasman in coordination with the Australian government.
"Returning New Zealanders and Pacific Island citizens will be transported to a military facility at Whangaparaoa, where they will spend 14 days in isolation.
"The training camp has been chosen because of its size and facilities, as well as its location and secure nature. It also has its own medical facilities.
"During the isolation period the returnees will receive daily medical checks. Families will be kept together where possible, but will remain isolated from other returnees.
"Efforts will be made to ensure they can maintain as normal a life as possible while in isolation: working remotely, meeting education needs for children and providing for leisure activities.
"Managing the return of people from a region experiencing an outbreak such as this is a major logistical challenge, but with meticulous planning and a precautionary approach we are now ready to bring New Zealand citizens home," Dr Clark says.