Coronavirus: University of Auckland cancels overseas work experience for its medical students

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak has prompted the University of Auckland to cancel overseas work experience for its medical students and immediately recall 70 of them.

The university said it had asked the students to return to New Zealand as soon as possible. It said it did not want them trapped overseas by changes to international travel restrictions.

The university said the decision immediately affected 70 students, as well as a further 150 who were due to travel later in the year.

University of Auckland medical and health sciences dean John Fraser said the decision was prompted by uncertainty about international travel.

"Our main concern was not so much for their risk of infection, but really our concern about the possibility for rapid change or imposition of travel restrictions which mean the students could be trapped," he said.

"I suspect that the situation globally is going to move very, very rapidly and we didn't want to be in a position where we were caught and not being able to get students back."

Professor Fraser said many of the students were in low-risk countries including the UK, Australia and Sweden, but some were in relatively high-risk areas such as sub-Saharan Africa.

"Understandably some of them are quite upset. We knew that that would be the case. Some of them have planned these for some time."

He said some students going to electives in Korea and Japan arrived recently, only to be told their hosts had cancelled their electives.

"The reason we made a blanket ban was we wanted to be fair to all students. We didn't want to pull some students back and leave some students to continue their electives."

Fraser said the university would help the students find placements in New Zealand, though that could put a strain on DHBs.

He said it would be difficult for the students to arrange overseas electives later in the year because they took about a year to arrange.

Fraser said all the medical programmes in Australia and New Zealand were discussing what to do about overseas placements, and some had already recalled their students.

The University of Otago said it was still considering what to do about its medical students on overseas placements.

The move comes after the second case of the virus in New Zealand was confirmed by health officials, a woman who returned to New Zealand from Italy via Singapore last Tuesday.

The woman had taken flights to Palmerston North and back since then, but health officials said she had been feeling unwell so largely stayed at home. Her partner has also displayed symptoms and is being tested.

Meanwhile the New Zealand Defence Force said it had no current plans to bring personnel back to New Zealand because of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, it said some non-operational activities and travel had been affected.

It decided last week that some members of the maritime sustainment capability project team based in Ulsan, South Korea, would return.