The Government is considering enlisting the help of the Defence Force to get Kiwis living in the Chinese city of Wuhan – ground zero for the deadly coronavirus – back home.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it won't be plain sailing, as there are still a number of logistical issues the Government needs to address before an evacuation is attempted.

Speaking to reporters at her first post-Cabinet press conference of the year, Ardern revealed there were 53 Kiwis registered as being in the Wuhan region.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know
Coronavirus scare: Three tour group members taken to Rotorua Hospital
Coronavirus: Health officials now have the power to quarantine anyone infected
Tests confirm source of deadly coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan

Roughly 20 of these have contacted the Government seeking consular assistance she said, but no New Zealanders in the city are showing symptoms of the virus.


Ardern said the Chinese Government has advised that it would be "very difficult" to evacuate New Zealand citizens, even if they were healthy, because of the measures put in place.

There were "many logistical issues" that needed to be worked through with the Chinese Government, Ardern said.

These include navigating the tight travel restrictions imposed by the Chinese Government, pre-departure screening requirements, and complying with any quarantine measures.

Because of this, Ardern said evacuating New Zealanders in the region was "not a simple, straightforward exercise".

Despite this, in a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) said it was exploring evacuation options with other countries.

"Options include the possibility of places being made available for New Zealanders on charter flights leaving Wuhan, or assisted departure by NZDF [New Zealand Defence Force] which is more complex," a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson warned New Zealanders currently in China that they "must comply with all Chinese laws, rules and regulations, including the travel restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities to contain the virus".

The US Department of State is making arrangements to get its government staff out of Wuhan – but Ardern confirmed there were no New Zealand Government officials in the city.


She also said that Cabinet had today decided to classify coronavirus as a "notifiable disease" – which gives medical officials the power to quarantine people, if required.

But Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said a situation where officials would have to exercise this power would be "very, very unusual".

Other diseases which are classed as notifiable include: Hepatitis A, Typhoid and paratyphoid fever and Salmonellosis.

So far, almost 4200 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed; 98 per cent of them in China.

There have been 106 deaths.

There are still no cases in New Zealand, but Bloomfield said it was very likely that the disease would reach New Zealand's shores.

But it was highly unlikely to be fatal and was not likely to spread beyond a few people.

This afternoon, he said it was "impossible" to confirm when coronavirus will reach New Zealand.

In terms of the economic impact of the disease, Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall said the impact on travel was, at this stage, unknown.

But he said it was likely to impact tourism numbers around the world and New Zealand would not be immune.

"Around 90 per cent of travellers this time last year from China would have come through a Chinese tourism bureau, so the suspension has the potential to have a significant impact on the NZ industry and economy."

Ardern said she had not yet had any advice from Treasury on the likely economic impact of coronavirus.

But she did say she has asked Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis to provide her with a briefing as to how much of an impact on tourism to New Zealand the virus would have.

She said it was "early days" but said there might be a waylaid impact on Chinese travel to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, pharmacists say they're almost instantly selling out of face masks amid panic over the virus.

But experts and health authorities say the devices won't be of much help.

Bloomfield, for example, did not make much of the devices, when asked by reporters on Tuesday.

"You can use a face mask if you like, but it is not really any protection," he said.