University campuses to close as restrictions raised to highest possible level for next four weeks
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced Level 4 lockdown restrictions for the country, including the closure of libraries, museums and schools for at least four weeks to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In a national address, she said these Level 4 measures—the highest in a series of restrictions intended to contain the virus—were necessary to prevent the deaths of “tens of thousands of New Zealanders”.
“We are all now preparing to go into self-isolation as a nation,” she said in a public announcement on 23 March.
“Staying at home is essential. It’s a simple but highly effective way to constrain the virus—it denies it places to go and will help give our healthcare system a fighting chance. So, over the next 48 hours every workplace must implement alternative ways of working. People must work from home so that interactions with others are limited.”
In recent weeks, universities had already started to move classes online to give international students access to course material in response to the NZ travel ban on overseas arrivals.
Massey University had announced that it would limit face-to-face classes and move most of its classes online, although it said the campus would remain open. It has now updated this to say that its campus will close to all students and staff, except staff who provide essential services, from 24 March.
The University of Auckland had already temporarily cancelled classes and course assessments. It has now announced that a full campus closure will come into effect within 48 hours, with a few essential services allowed to continue.
Auckland University of Technology is bringing its mid-semester break forward and extending it by two weeks. The break will now run from 25 March to 22 April, during which time there will be no teaching or assessment on campus or online. Assessment deadlines “will be postponed until further notice”.
“During the break, AUT lecturers and staff will continue to develop quality online materials and learning resources ready for the restart of teaching,” a statement says.
In her national address, Ardern said that NZ schools would close from 24 March except for the children of essential workers such as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and police. This will be a temporary measure to give parents time to plan, but schools “will close entirely from midnight Wednesday”.
“We are fortunate to still be some way behind the majority of overseas countries in terms of cases, but the trajectory is clear. Act now, or risk the virus taking hold as it has elsewhere,” she said.
“We currently have 102 cases—but so did Italy once. Now the virus has overwhelmed their health system and hundreds of people are dying every day. The situation here is moving at pace, and so must we.”
Medical modelling considered by the NZ cabinet suggested that if Level 4 measures were not introduced swiftly, “up to tens of thousands of New Zealanders could die from Covid-19”, Ardern said.
“To stop community transmission, which has a lag time, these measures will need to be in place for four weeks. Again, I want to reiterate, you will be able to make regular visits to essential services in that time,” she said.
“If after those four weeks we have been successful, I hope we will be able to ease up on restrictions. If we haven’t, we’ll find ourselves living with them for longer. That’s why sticking to the rules matters. If we don’t—if you hang out with that friend at a park or see that family member for lunch, you risk spreading Covid-19 and extending everyone’s time in Level 4.”