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After the Government yesterday declined any exemption to a coronavirus travel ban for students from China, a University of Otago medical adviser said the World Health Organisation opposed such extensive travel restrictions.
Prof Philip Hill, chairman of Otago University’s medical advisory group, which is part of its Covid-19 response, has said about 200 of its students are still in China and unable to resume studies this week.
The university had worked closely with health authorities, including the Ministry of Health and its own public health experts, and was ready to take in these students if the Government agreed to an exemption, he said earlier.
Prof Hill said this was a complex situation and there were arguments on both sides, but he hoped further careful consideration would be given to the WHO stand, which opposed blanket country-based bans on people without symptoms undertaking international travel.
"Let’s have a think about it, everybody. The government decision is not in line with WHO guidelines."
Prof Hill said many of the students from China who arrived before the travel ban was put in force had now left 14 days of self-isolation and the university was "pleased with how this has been managed".
Health Minister Dr David Clark yesterday acknowledged that the country’s universities had asked for exemptions to let overseas students from China into New Zealand, but said "our priority is protecting New Zealanders''.
"The situation with Covid-19 is rapidly evolving. We are seeing concerning trends internationally, with more and more countries reporting confirmed cases.
"Now is not the time to step back from our approach."
More health staff would meet international flights at airports, he added.
Asked about suggestions that the coronavirus situation was "rapidly evolving", Prof Hill said official statistics from China, in fact, suggested that extensive measures undertaken there were having some effect and greater control was starting to be achieved.
Otago University had taken a responsible and measured approach throughout, and had generally favoured increased checking and protections beyond official guidelines.
Some people had pointed out that students from China who had undertaken self-isolation in a third country had subsequently been admitted to New Zealand, but the Government had declined to allow the 14-day quarantine period to be undertaken here.
Prof Hill said some students from China had already reached Otago University via third countries, and he understood a few more would be arriving early next week.
University staff spoke to such students and they were seen by Student Health staff.
Although they had self-isolated elsewhere, the university continued to check on the students each day for a further two weeks.
"We’re adding this extra daily check," he said.