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Coronavirus evacuation flight lands in New Zealand

The first Australians evacuated from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, arrive on Christmas Island on Tuesday. Photo by Australia's Department of Home Affairs/EPA-EFE
The first Australians evacuated from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, arrive on Christmas Island on Tuesday. Photo by Australia's Department of Home Affairs/EPA-EFE

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- An Air New Zealand flight carrying some 200 people of various nationalities fleeing China amid an outbreak of a deadly coronavirus touched down in Auckland on Wednesday, officials said, as the global death toll from the disease climbed to nearly 500.

New Zealand's Ministry of Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield told reporters the plane landed in Auckland Wednesday evening with all 190 passengers on board tired but well.

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"They were all very relieved to be here," he said.

Officials said in a statement Wednesday the plane had departed before 7 a.m. from the international airport in Wuhan, the central Chinese city that has been under lockdown for weeks amid an outbreak of a new coronavirus called 2019-nCoV.

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The city in Hubei province is home to a seafood and wild animal market where the disease is believed to have emerged from. People first starting falling ill from the coronavirus in early December, but it has since infected people in at least 23 countries, which are now rushing to stymie it from further spreading.

China on Wednesday announced 65 people, all in Hubei province, had died from the disease in the past 24 hours, causing the national death toll to climb to 490. Globally, 492 have died from the disease.

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China's National Health Commission said it had 24,324 confirmed cases of the disease, an increase of 3,887 new cases from the day prior. The majority of the cases were from Hubei, it added.

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Outside of China, there are at least 149 confirmed cases of the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

New Zealand has yet to register a confirmed case and to prevent possible contamination all passengers of the Air New Zealand flight were screened before boarding resulting in one person barred from the flight by Chinese authorities, according to the New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Among the passengers to land in Auckland were 98 New Zealanders, 23 Australians and 69 nationals from predominantly Pacific Island nations including Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Kiribati and others.

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Bloomfield said some nations had asked New Zealand to fly their citizens out of Wuhan.

Britain confirmed that 14 people, including eight Britons and their family members, were aboard the plane.

"So grateful to NZ colleagues for getting 14 Brits/family members onto NZ flight from Wuhan last night," said Danae Dholakia, a British diplomate in Beijing, on Twitter.

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Dholakia said the departure of the plane was delayed to allow the British Embassy to acquire clearances for a 4-year-old child.

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"New Zealand: you're wonderful," she said.

On Tuesday, Bloomfield said 263 people had registered to travel. However, some had removed their names from the manifest while 60 others failed to arrive at the airport, the foreign affairs ministry said.

Aside from the Australians, the passengers will be transported to Whangaparaoa Peninsula, some 25 miles north of Auckland, where they will be quarantined during the coronavirus' 14-day incubation period, Bloomfield said.

"I'm very pleased to say that the flight is here, the people on board are all well and I'm pleased the Ministry of Health is now taking responsibility for them, and we will be taking care of them for the 14 days that they are here in isolation up on Whangaparaoa Peninsula," he said.

He said, the Australians who landed in Auckland will be transferred directly to a flight to take them home, he said.

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The evacuation comes after Australia repatriated 241 citizens from Wuhan on Tuesday who are now under quarantine on Christmas Island.

Meanwhile, the United States said two flights have departed from Wuhan with 350 passengers and were heading to California military bases.

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