Government 'actively exploring' possibility of lifting foreign student travel ban - Health Minister David Clark

The Health Minister says the Government is "actively exploring" the possibility of lifting a travel ban stopping foreign students from China coming into New Zealand.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the ban, which restricts flights to and from mainland China, would be extended for another eight days in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus. 

But with the academic year set to begin shortly, universities have pleaded for foreign students to be exempt from the ban.

More than 11,000 Chinese students have been prevented from entering the country since the ban was imposed on February 2. The figure accounts for 41 percent of the number of Chinese students due to arrive and includes nearly 7000 people enrolled with universities, around 2000 school students and over 1000 polytechnic students, according to RNZ.

Health Minister David Clark says the Government may move to exempt foreign students from the restrictions, but only if education institutions can convince authorities measures are in place for those arriving to self-isolate.

"We need to be satisfied that any health risk could be practically managed, with the education sector able to reassure us and the public that it has credible self-isolation and accommodation plans in place," Clark told RNZ on Tuesday.

He said private providers were "a little more reluctant to entertain the option of having people stay there during the quarantine period."

"I think we just need to be reassured, and the public will need to be reassured, that self-isolation can be provided in a practical way before we would raise the issue of lifting that travelling ban."

The Government was continuing to monitor the situation, Clark said.

"We are being cautious in our approach and so we are continuing to listen to what the doctors and experts say." 

In particular, authorities were keeping an eye on new outbreaks reported in Iran, Italy and South Korea.

He said the Government was continuing to focus on keeping the virus out of the country, while also planning for what to do if it does arrive.

"Obviously we have a well-prepared and constantly updated pandemic plan that's been in place for a number of years which is tested from year to year and so we are prepared for any kind of epidemic situation, but at this stage our efforts are focused on keeping the virus out of New Zealand and then if a case comes in being able to contain it so that it doesn't spread to the wider community."

On Monday, Ardern said it was "not realistic to assume" COVID-19 - the official name for coronavirus - would never reach New Zealand, saying there was a "very high chance" it would get here eventually.

The World Health Organisation says it is "too early" to consider the virus a pandemic but that it remains a global emergency.