Universities ‘lobbied strongly’ for travel ban exemption for students


“We don’t want to set a false expectation that [the travel ban] is likely to change yet at this point,” Mr Hunt said on Tuesday. “The government principle is to protect Australians first and foremost.”

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said health authorities understood “the huge implications” of the travel ban.

“If there’s any reason or basis for relaxing them, that advice will come as soon as it’s there,” he said.

The chairman of the Global Reputation Taskforce, Phil Honeywood, will run Wednesday’s meeting at the Austrade offices in Melbourne. He said the government was “strongly lobbied” by universities and the accommodation sector to allow students into the country when it was considering the travel ban.

“The logistics were seen to be challenging for over 100,000 students, where are you going to put them all?” he said. “The political blow-back was also hard to imagine.”

He said there were now a whole range of “severe impediments” to reopening the education market.  He said he expected Senator Birmingham to address them on Wednesday. Mr Tehan will meet with Universities Australia on Tuesday night.

“Once we get into several weeks of delays then it begins to impact on the study concerns of domestic students,” he said.

UNSW announced on Tuesday that students still stuck in China would be able to begin their studies in June. Monash has pushed back its start of semester by a fortnight, while a University of Sydney pathways college has also deferred classes for two weeks.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the situation was rapidly evolving.

“We have been working through all eventualities with the government while at the same time carefully following advice from Australian medical authorities,” she said. 

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Mr Honeywood said universities had achieved some breakthroughs with Chinese authorities, including allowing the use of the Moodle platform to deliver courses online, but getting students physically back into class remained the top priority. He said all measures, including quarantining or asking students to self-isolate, were still on the table.

“As soon as that travel ban is lifted let’s see what we can do,” he said.

Fifteen cases of the virus have been confirmed in Australia. All patients are in a stable condition or have been released after recovering. There are also 11 Australians being treated in Japan after they contracted the flu-like disease on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Yokohama, with more than 3000 people on board.

The Chinese government is also ramping up its efforts to contain the growing threat of the virus as it moves into its first working week after the Lunar New Year.

President Xi reappeared in public for the first time since the crisis began in December. Wearing a face mask, he urged people to take hygiene seriously.

“Let’s not shake hands in this special time,” he said, according to Chinese state media.

The People’s Daily also reported that party secretary of the Health Commission of Hubei province Zhang Jin and director of the Hubei Provincial Health Commission Liu Yingzi had been removed from their posts.

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