Otago Uni still working on Omicron policy

University of Otago says it is awaiting guidelines for tertiary institutions following yesterday...
University of Otago says it is awaiting guidelines for tertiary institutions following yesterday's announcement of a three-phase approach to Omicron. Photo: ODT files
With only a month until the academic year begins, the University of Otago is still making plans for how it will operate in the midst of an Omicron outbreak.

About 20,000 students attend the university with more than three-quarters coming from outside of Otago and Southland.

Helen Nicholson. Photo: supplied
Helen Nicholson. Photo: supplied
Dunedin's population swells during the academic year with students making up about 15 percent of residents.

But the lifestyle of young people as well as their heavy concentration in North Dunedin and the student quarter means Omicron could easily taking grip.

Otago University acting vice-chancellor professor Helen Nicholson said the university was preparing to operate under red light restrictions, however, the contagiousness of Omicron had changed the game.

"The University of Otago spent considerable time last year preparing for working under the government's Covid-19 Protection Framework traffic light system in 2022, to ensure the university could continue to operate as much as possible even at the red level," Nicholson said in a statement.

The government yesterday announced that the country would move through a new three-phase approach to Omicron.

"The university's vaccine policy means that everyone on our campuses - including our residential colleges - is vaccinated (unless they have met the government-approved exemption protocol), which we expect will help minimise the impact of Omicron. Now, in the build-up to the start of our new academic year, planning continues on a daily basis with our emergency management group. We are awaiting the latest guidelines for tertiary institutions from government following yesterday's announcement."

About 3000 students live in residential colleges and thousands more in flats around North Dunedin.

Nicholson said they were working through how to tackle a community outbreak in those settings.

"Residential accommodation is a huge part of the Otago experience with both our residential colleges and large number of flats in the North Dunedin area and we have a particular focus on how we will manage a community outbreak in these areas. We are working closely with the ministries of health and education to ensure we have measures in place and the best for support for students if this situation arises. Our student health team is constantly working and planning in liaison with WellSouth PHO and public health authorities."

A question about how isolation would be managed in those settings was not directly addressed in the statement.

The university's summer school was currently operating red level restrictions.

"We have had to make some venue changes due to physical distancing requirements to allow face to face teaching to continue and some of the examinations are being moved online," she said.

"In terms of Semester 1, we are working with government regulations and will have measures in place for teaching and learning before the academic year begins."

The university would not provide a copy of the university's plans or policies for how an Omicron outbreak would be managed and mitigated, citing confidentiality.



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter