Travel Ban Causing Disruption for Students
By Larissa Howie
Hundreds of AUT international students from mainland China have had their study plans disrupted by a travel ban stopping them from entering New Zealand.
The government introduced the ban on February 2, in response to the outbreak of Covid-19.
AUT told Debate approximately 800 students are stuck in China and that it’s working to assist them.
“Our aim is to help them begin their studies remotely and welcome them here at AUT as soon as we can.”
First-year student, Mazzy Meng, was living in Shanghai when the COVID-19 outbreak erupted and says she tried to stay home as much as possible to avoid infection. She wore a face mask each time she left the house and sterilised herself using alcohol upon her return.
“I was scared and anxious … maybe because I feared death,” she says.
Meng has since travelled to Thailand from Shanghai in an effort to get around the restrictions. She must stay there for 14 days and hopes she will then be able to fly into New Zealand.
Meng says herself and her peers are “frustrated and irritated” with the situation.
She says the travel ban is “cruel” especially as travellers from other Asian countries, including South Korea, which is also experiencing an outbreak, are not being refused entry.
“I feel it’s like a discrimination on China,” she says.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Health Minister and Education Minister, the NZ Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) has called for the government to ditch the travel ban completely, or at the very least to make an exception for tertiary students.
NZUSA says the travel ban contradicts World Health Organisation (WHO) advice that travel bans create hostility and fear.
“The perpetuation of misinformation by the government and within the media has fuelled panic and xenophobia,” NZUSA said in its statement.
AUT says it understands the government has to balance many priorities and that the university will remain focused on working with students who are not yet able to return.
The university admits, however that it is "increasingly anxious" about the ban and its impact on students.
“Whatever the decision, we will continue to work with our students so they can begin their studies and prepare to welcome them to AUT when they are able to reach New Zealand.”
Infectious disease expert, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, says the government is in a difficult position with the travel ban.
“Given we are a gateway to the Pacific, the travel ban is one way we can help minimise the chance of the virus spreading to our neighbours, whose under-resourced health systems would struggle to deal with the virus.”
Dr Wiles told Debate students concerned about the virus need to focus on preparing and not panicking.
“We should all be looking at how we would self-isolate if it turned out we had been in contact with someone infected. For AUT, this might mean looking at how courses could be delivered online instead of large lectures.”
Debate understands that AUT has an emergency management team and a pandemic plan which would be deployed if an outbreak was to occur.
The university says there is currently very little risk of students being infected and that it’s following WHO guidelines, with a focus on hygiene. This includes hand sanitising stations with WHO information that are set up across campuses.
The university is also continuing to stress the importance of making sure students feel welcome on campus.
“The illness is not contracted or spread by any ethnic group and it is unacceptable to discriminate against any student.”