International students may be allowed into NZ before border opens

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Auckland Airport travellers
Travellers arriving at Auckland Airport before the border closed due to the covid-19 lockdown. Image: Dan Cook/RNZ

By Jane Patterson is political editor of RNZ News

New Zealand may allow international students to come to this country under quarantine conditions, before the borders are opened up again to other foreign nationals.

Universities and polytechs are pushing for students to be allowed to return to New Zealand after a dramatic drop in numbers.

It has been a major blow to an industry that was once worth $5 billion a year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 alert details for NZ – what you need to know at level 2

Education Minister Chris Hipkins is now flagging the possibility of allowing international students back into New Zealand before the border reopens.

An exemption was something the government was “working through with the sector”, he said.

“It is possible that we’ll be able to put a quarantine arrangements in place for international students coming into New Zealand that sees them quarantining for two weeks, that way we know that when they come into wider New Zealand society they are covid-free.

“And then it may well be possible that we can resume more international education in that environment.”

Quarantine not such a barrier
He said unlike tourists who are coming here for just short stay, international students would usually be here for a year or more.

“And so the two weeks of quarantine that they may need to do, that they would need to do at the beginning of their arrival, isn’t as much of a barrier as it is for tourism.

“So it’s quite possible we’ll be able to work with international education providers to manage quarantine at the beginning of, say, a year’s worth of study so that they can come into New Zealand.”

There was “work to do to make that happen”, said Hipkins.

He would directly ask the education providers to “start working up their plans” in the next 24 hours, for what they would do in a “quarantine like arrangement”, if the government reached that point.

Ministers need evidence
Ministers would need to see evidence they would implement what he described as a “hard quarantine model” for any arriving students.

“We could not be relying on trust for example, we couldn’t be putting them in a hall of residence and saying ‘don’t go anywhere’, we’d actually need to know that it was an enforceable model.

“We would need to see assurance, we’d need to see a good concrete proposal but we’re certainly open to receiving that proposal.”

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has revealed the country has had just one new confirmed case of Covid-19 reported in New Zealand in the past 24 hours.

Watch today’s media briefing. Video: RNZ News

One new confirmed covid-19 case in NZ
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has revealed the country has had just one new confirmed case of Covid-19 reported in New Zealand in the past 24 hours.

Dr Bloomfield said the person who tested positive was a household contact of a previous case from the Matamata cluster.

Two people are in hospital but there are no patients in intensive care units (ICU) and there have been no further deaths.

Dr Bloomfield said this brings the total number of cases to 1489, with 1332 people recovered – 89 percent of cases.

“Yesterday our labratories processed a record 7323 tests, bringing the total number of tests undertaken to date to 168,023.”

He said more than 500 people have now been tested from the Marist School group.

Dr Bloomfield said evidence relating to the virus continued to emerge, but there was a better understanding of how the virus transmitted.

Low cases ‘key thing’
“The key thing here is we are increasingly in a position to be able to go into alert level 2, because of the low numbers of cases we have through our efforts from the lockdown.”

Dr Bloomfield said the ministry was working with the Aged Care Association and had developed a new questionnaire about testing and other screening processes for people going into aged care.

He said the review of the 32 exemption cases to leave mandatory isolation early on compassionate grounds has now been completed.

All of the decisions have been deemed to have been made correctly.

However, Dr Bloomfield said some would have had a different outcome if the new criteria had been used.

He said there was one person who has left managed isolation to visit a dying relative.

At Wednesday’s briefing, two new cases of covid-19 were reported, one confirmed and one probable, after two days in a row of zero cases.

One further death was also announced then – a woman in her 60s who was part of the Rosewood cluster and had underlying health conditions.

  • This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.
  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre.
  • Follow RNZ’s coronavirus newsfeed
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