Waipārūrū hall was evacuated twice on Thursday without social distancing in the midst of Auckland’s second Alert Level Three lockdown so far this year.
The first alarm, a room alarm, went off at 5pm. The second alarm occurred at 7.30pm and was confirmed to be caused by burnt popcorn. Students at the hall have claimed on social media that the first fire alarm was set off by a vape.
In videos posted to TikTok, large groups of evacuated residents were seen in close contact with each other outside of the building. Amongst the crowds, only some residents were seen to be wearing masks.
Craccum understands the hall’s residents have been isolating in floor-wide bubbles over the Alert Level Three period. According to the University website, the hall is home to 786 residents.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was questioned regarding guidelines for managing Alert Levels in student accomodation in Friday’s post-cabinet press conference. While she could not speak to the Waipārūrū situation specifically, “the Ministry of Education did some excellent work pretty early on with tertiary education institutions with how they would operate under the different alert levels,” Ardern said.
“I would need to go back and check that we have covered off things like an evacuation. I would imagine it would. It may just be that they [university staff] just didn’t execute their plans.”
“What I will do is ask the Minister for COVID-19 Response & Education [Chris Hipkins] to compare the notes from MIQ protocols [to that of university accommodation facilities] because we have protocols on what do we have to do when we evacuate people who are already at risk of having COVID. There will be some clear things which will be helpful to share with university accommodation.”
University of Auckland spokesperson Lisa Finucane has confirmed that some cohorts were close to each other and breached.
One Waipārūrū Hall resident says they were evacuated with people on their floor waiting on COVID-19 test results.
“It was a lot of confused teenagers not wearing masks mixing all the floor bubbles which all have people waiting on COVID test results.”
The student also told Craccum that these students were not separated from the rest of the residents evacuating.
“A couple girls from other floors came over during the first fire alarm and said they were evacuated with the people on their floor waiting on test results.”
Finucane says that while some Waipārūrū Hall residents are awaiting COVID-19 test results, they are lower risk students who are being tested because of flu-like symptoms.
“No student is in a room at Waiparuru and isolating because they are connected to the February cluster. Any student who was a casual, casual plus or close contact is isolating at home or in a studio in another building.”
The University’s spokesperson also told Craccum that hall staff offered masks to students, and made hand sanitiser regularly available.
“Staff did their best to keep students together in their bubble.”
The same resident says the resident advisors tried to keep students socially distanced. However they say this did not happen, as everyone took the stairs during the evacuation which meant the floor bubbles all mixed.
“After we got out we got into our floor groups, but everyone was still very mixed and people were seeing their friends, maximizing the opportunity.”
A second resident also said that those using stairs and elevators were unable to practice social distancing, and although Waipārūrū staff attempted to organise residents into floor groups once outside, this was largely unsuccessful after the first alarm.
“The second time around was definitely much better, in that they enforced the staying in your bubble rule.”
The hundreds of students allegedly came into close contact with residents of a neighboring apartment complex.
“We all had to shuffle around for the fire truck and cars and random residents from Empire (another apartment complex) were walking through our ‘mosh pit’.”
The student says some students joked about setting off the alarm because they wanted to see their friends on different floors.
Another former resident commented on social media “if there’s one thing I don’t miss about Waipa it’s them constant fire alarms.”
The student we spoke to says it has been implied that fire alarms go off falsely and frequently at the hall.
However the University’s spokesperson says that “with any evacuation there is a focus on supporting students to exit the building safely to prevent loss of life.”