Coronavirus: University of Auckland should know physical distancing, gatherings rules before in-person learning returns - Dr Ashley Bloomfield

The Director-General of Health says he hopes the University of Auckland knows the exact expectations around physical distancing and gathering sizes when it returns to in-person lectures next week.

The university's Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater emailed students on Monday informing them that all lectures under 300 people would resume on campus the following Monday and they would be required to attend classes in-person.

All exams and tests would also be completed on campus with physical distancing.

It prompted almost 10,000 people to sign two petitions pleading for leniency from the university. One is asking for a grade scale-up - which Freshwater clarified wouldn't be happening - and the other asked for all exams to be moved online.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said while he didn't know the exact details about the university's return to in-person learning, he did see a news story about students "bothered" about going back face-to-face.

"I am assuming the university knows exactly what the expectations are around physical distancing and that they will be implementing that," he said during a press conference on Wednesday.

"In particular, it should be groups of no more than 10 people together, and so I'll be interested to look and we'll follow up if there's any sense that there'll be larger groups in any of the lecture theatres."

Under Auckland's current alert level 2.5, groups can't be larger than 10 people. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the city's alert level will be reviewed by Cabinet on September 21 with a view to increase the size of gatherings. If a change is agreed, it would come into effect from Wednesday, September 23 - two days after the University of Auckland returns to in-person learning.

Coronavirus: University of Auckland should know physical distancing, gatherings rules before in-person learning returns - Dr Ashley Bloomfield
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"In the first instance, under alert level 2.5, there can't be 300 [people in a lecture theatre] - there can't be groups more than 10," Dr Bloomfield said.

"At the moment, compulsory mask-use is expected on public transport and on flights, and in other settings, it's strongly encouraged where people can't easily physically distance."

When asked if universities should be treated differently to schools - since tertiary students live across the city and don't tend to live more locally like many school students do - he said that decision would be up to the Ministry of Education.

"They have more expertise than we do in that, and of course we provide advice on their request."

A University of Auckland spokesperson told Newshub on Tuesday if students are concerned about returning to campus, they can view their lectures online. But if they don't have underlying health conditions or an immunocompromised family, they are expected to attend their course in-person.

Students who are concerned about attending campus but do not have a high-risk health condition can contact the university's Health and Counselling Service for support.