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Universities cancel events as Australia bans public gatherings

Government shuts down all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people

Australia’s universities are preparing to introduce online courses and cancel public events—such as conferences, public lectures and concerts—in response to restrictions on public gatherings announced by prime minister Scott Morrison.

The ban is part of a national strategy to contain the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Australia.

Following meetings with state premiers last week, Morrison announced on 15 March that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled. He said this measure should not affect the operation of “essential services” such as public transport, schools and universities.

“However, the principle of social distancing should still apply in these settings,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt has announced that all public and social events at the Canberra campus will be cancelled until the end of the first semester on 20 June.

“Our aim is to reduce opportunities for the virus to spread by limiting activity on campus without disrupting our essential teaching and research activities. Cancellation and postponement will extend to all discretionary events including ticketed and non-ticketed public events, public lectures and concerts,” he said.  

A student at the University of Sydney has been diagnosed with the virus, bringing the number of confirmed cases in New South Wales to 134 people. Around 80 people who were in contact with the student have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days, and six campus locations are being “intensively cleaned”, a university statement said. 

Most universities have set up dedicated helplines and webpages for staff and students. Many are also providing support and counselling for students who need to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to Australia from Asia and some areas of Europe.

The University of Wollongong has cancelled public events, including its popular annual student garden party, and will refund ticket holders.

“We are committed to adapting our operations to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and communities,” vice-chancellor Paul Wellings said.

“We acknowledge the disruption the virus is causing, as we work to support those in need. Now is the time for cooperation, flexibility and continued support for all students, fellow staff and our communities.”