Around 2000 University of Auckland students from mainland China have not been able to return in time to start Semester One due to travel restrictions imposed by the government.
In a statement to Craccum, the university confirmed that approximately 2000 students are affected by the travel ban, but did not comment on where they are located in China.
6000 tertiary students from New Zealand institutions are estimated to be stranded in China, of which 2000 are first year students.
The travel restrictions, announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 2nd February, barred all foreign nationals travelling from or through mainland China from entering New Zealand.
New Zealand citizens and permanent residents returning to New Zealand will still be able to enter, as will their immediate family members, but will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
The Ministry of Health said the likelihood of an imported coronavirus case in New Zealand is high, but chances of a widespread outbreak are low to moderate.
As of the 25th February, there are 80152 confirmed coronavirus cases globally, with 2701 deaths.
In an email sent to all students, Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said the risk of exposure within the university is very low but that protective measures have been taken, such as hand sanitisers placed in toilets and reception areas, as well as posters and e-screens displaying hygiene messages and information.
The University also said they were not aware if any students that were currently overseas have tested positive for coronavirus, and asked those who are unable to return in time to fill in an online form in order to “develop a personalised study plan” and make arrangements to study offshore, including additional tutorial support or alternative assessment arrangements.
Eddie Jia, President of the Auckland University Chinese Student Association, is currently located in the Chinese province of Henan. He says most Chinese students understand the reasoning behind the travel restrictions, but do not support them.
“This ban may directly lead to changes in the study plan of most Chinese international students, [because] it may bring uncertainty to their study abroad life and increase the difficulty of studying abroad.”
“Most international students want to complete their studies on time, which is related to many factors, such as visa duration, job opportunities, [and] financial stability.”
“We don’t want the ban to stay in place for a long time. We want it to be cancel[led] or partially cancel[led] in a short period of time.”
“I hope the government can cancel the ban on those who are holding student visas and live outside of severely affected area[s].”
Jia also said he was satisfied with the university’s plans to continue their studies, as some students got a response from their faculty and a customized study plan within a short time frame.
This satisfaction was echoed by AUSA President George Barton.
“AUSA has been in close communication with the University and we are – along with the New Zealand International Students’ Association – very supportive of the good work the University is doing for our affected students.”
“I would encourage all students who do have concerns to get in touch with the University through their online page and to bring any concerns to AUSA as well.”
However, some universities and student organizations want the government to lessen travel restrictions to allow exemptions for tertiary students, a move that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signalled she was open to – only if the education sector could assure the public that any health risk could be managed.
Grant Guilford, chair of the International Committee of Universities New Zealand and Victoria University’s Vice-Chancellor, called the ban a “betrayal of trust” that could cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Fundamentally, it goes to a matter of trust between China and New Zealand – and if we blow this one, don’t treat these young people well, the damage extends well beyond to every other sector that has anything to do with China.”
“They (Chinese students) [will] enrol in Canada or the UK which did not put a travel ban in place and have made sure the students in China are very aware of that.”
“This goes beyond the education sector into the wider trading relationship and the diplomatic relationship with China.”
Director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, also claimed universities could lose 170 million dollars annually if the travel restrictions were not lifted.
The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) have criticised the restrictions in an open letter, claiming they fuel racism and undermine the wellbeing of international students and staff travelling from or through China.
“The ban has fuelled hysteria that coronavirus is a “Chinese” disease, and is responsible for spreading xenophobic and anti-Chinese sentiments within the Asian community.”
“Both domestic and international students have been the target of this xenophobia. This includes long-standing Chinese and Asian communities in New Zealand.”
“International students have been left in the lurch as to the impact the travel ban will have on their ability to continue their studies in New Zealand.”
“First-year students are equally concerned that they will not be able to fulfil their dream of tertiary study, having already invested in fees, accommodation and visas for the year ahead.”
According to the Ministry of Health, coronavirus symptoms were similar to other illnesses such as influenza, including fever, coughing and having difficulty breathing.
Auckland Regional Public Health Services had said normal measures such as covering coughs and sneezes, not going to work or school if feeling unwell and washing hands regularly are the best ways to avoid the illness.
Anyone who has been to or transited through mainland China is expected to self-isolate for 14 days, starting from the day of departure.
They should also register their details with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 on an international SIM) within 24 hours of arriving in New Zealand.
If you believe you could have the coronavirus, stay at home and call the dedicated line on 0800 358 5453. Interpreters are available on request.