Universities move lectures online as Omicron ravages New Zealand

Back-to-campus plans hit snags on both sides of the Tasman

February 23, 2022
Two young ambassadors, armed with hand sanitiser pumps and scan codes for tracking whereabouts to assist with COVID-19 monitoring and tracking pose at the CubaDupa Street Festival in Wellington, while passersby take photos or wait for hand sanitiser.
Source: iStock

New Zealand universities face a wave of coronavirus disruption as the new academic year coincides with an all-time peak in infections.

The eight institutions are operating in restricted mode after the government last month moved the entire country to the “red” setting in New Zealand’s “traffic light” Covid-19 protection framework. It allows on-campus activities to proceed with capacity limits, social distancing, masks worn indoors and scanning of check-in codes.

Most universities are operating in dual mode, holding classes both in person and online. The government rules also require people using campus facilities to be immunised against Covid-19, although most universities have independently imposed vaccination mandates.

Some have exceeded other government requirements – particularly in Auckland, the epicentre of an Omicron outbreak that fuelled a record 3,297 new coronavirus infections on 23 February.

The University of Auckland will deliver courses “primarily online” until its mid-semester break on 15 April, and its orientation week events are limited to 100 people. About a dozen coronavirus exposure sites have been recorded in campuses and residential colleges over the past two weeks, as the tally of infections snowballs.

“We have around 150 confirmed cases in our university community, both staff and students, which is testing our contact tracing and support processes like never before,” Auckland’s website says.

Auckland University of Technology is hosting tutorials, small classes and workshops on campus, but lectures and orientation week activities have been shifted online.

South Island universities are also reeling from coronavirus. The University of Otago is keeping lectures online until its mid-semester break and is considering conducting assessments remotely. The University of Canterbury has logged more than a dozen Covid exposure sites in the past 10 days, while nearby Lincoln University tallied seven in three days.

Victoria University of Wellington has endured disruption of a different kind, with its downtown Pipitea campus closed until April because of rowdy demonstrations against New Zealand’s vaccine mandates. The protesters have disrupted the city’s centre and occupied its parliamentary precinct for more than two weeks.

In Australia, orientation weeks are proceeding in person on many campuses despite daily infection tallies in the tens of thousands, and a mixed approach to vaccine mandates. About one in two universities does not require immunisation, with some questioning the necessity amid very high community vaccination rates.

The Australian National University, where vaccines are mandated only in “specific university settings”, had its orientation week blighted by an Omicron outbreak in the residential colleges. Infections reportedly exceeded 200 by 20 February, with more recorded since.

A spokesman declined to quantify the infections but said they had not been unexpected. “This is now part of life for a campus the size of a small town in the midst of a pandemic – particularly as our young population returns and wider restrictions begin to lift.”

He said infected students were self-isolating in their residences, with the university providing meals and “regular well-being checks”.

Australian policymakers have rolled our new advisory resources as students – particularly those from abroad – flock back to campus. Universities Australia unveiled a “competency framework” to help prevent suicide by students and academics.

The Fair Work Ombudsman produced a guide to the rights and responsibilities of workers and their employers. “As international students begin to return to study and work in Australia, it’s important they understand their workplace rights,” said government trade agency Austrade.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles


Featured jobs