Coronavirus: University of Auckland students told to self-isolate in student accommodation

Auckland University students who may have been exposed to COVID-19 while overseas are being told to self-isolate in their pre-booked student accommodation.

A spokesperson told Newshub that students with a room in the university's accommodation "will be able to self-isolate there" for 14 days, in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines.

"That's part of our commitment to their care and wellbeing," the spokesperson said on Tuesday. "We have very strict rules and protocols."

What are the potential risks?

Unease over the arrangement appears to be already circulating among parents. One "concerned parent" emailed Newshub on Tuesday morning, suggesting that the risks may outweigh the positives.

"This seems rather risky to all students in these halls - why would they take such a risk?  I wonder if this is a [financial] decision? [And] would they make the same decision if [their] own children were in residence?" the parent said.

"I believe the students have had no say in this matter."

Anxieties have been fuelled by speculation that COVID-19 can be transmitted through building pipes. Earlier in February, Hong Kong health officials partially evacuated high-rise residents after two people on different floors became infected. A number of cases have been linked back to the apartment block, which has connected toilet discharge pipes.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, there were more than 300 infections and 42 deaths after defective plumbing at the Amoy Gardens housing estate allowed the virus to spread through the building.

According to CNN, a virus could possibly be transmitted through a sewage system's floor drain and water closet, or the vent pipe becoming detached. 

How will self-isolated students live for 14 days?

According to the university, students living in its self-catered apartments will have easy access to all the online resources required to keep up with their studies. 

On-site staff will help students with food delivery and rubbish removal, with the option of ordering groceries online or paying an additional cost for prepared meals. 

Students will either be assigned a bathroom for exclusive use or will share a communal bathroom that is cleaned daily. 

An assigned student buddy will check in on isolated pupils daily to ensure they are coping.

Students who have booked a studio apartment will receive the same support, but will be equipped with their own kitchen and bathroom.

Those in a catered hall will also be supported, their rent including all meals delivered to the door. Either a designated bathroom will be provided for exclusive use or a shared bathroom will be cleaned four times daily.

How are students potentially exposed to COVID-19 restricted?

As of Monday, the Government announced that people travelling to New Zealand from Italy or South Korea will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Travel restrictions for China and Iran have also been extended for a further seven days.

Anyone who has travelled to New Zealand from or via mainland China or Iran in the last 14 days is required to self-isolate for two weeks. Anyone who has travelled from or via Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand, who develop symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath, should seek medical advice by phoning Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or contacting their GP.

People travelling from these countries "do not have to routinely self-isolate unless they have symptoms and meet the clinical criteria", confirms the university's website.

Current travel restrictions include a ban on all travel to or through mainland China and required approval for "non-essential travel" to destinations including South Korea.

Entry restrictions into New Zealand imposed on all foreign nations travelling from or through mainland China has left a number of students in limbo as the semester starts without them.