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Lab research can resume under easing of lockdown restrictions

Ardern announces that some limited, strictly managed on-campus activities will be allowed from next week

New Zealand’s universities will be able to resume some areas of laboratory research under an easing of the Covid-19 national lockdown restrictions announced by prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

However, research must be “strictly managed to ensure physical distancing requirements are met”, and projects involving personal interviews or physical tests remain banned.

Most campuses will remain closed and universities will continue to move courses and tutorials online to allow remote study.

Ardern told NZ media on 20 April that the country would move from Level 4 to Level 3 restrictions at 11.59pm on Monday 27 April. She said the Level 3 alert would be in place for two weeks and would be reviewed on 11 May.

“Going hard and early to stamp out the virus, backed by an effort of five million New Zealanders to break the chain of transmission, means together we have helped stop the uncontrolled explosion of Covid-19 in New Zealand,” she said.

“On the recommendation of the director-general of health, who is confident there is currently no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand, we are able to take a balanced approach in transitioning through alert levels and restarting our economy.”

University of Auckland vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said the Level 3 alert would not change the institution’s decision to continue online learning until the end of July. He said the Ministry of Education had sent out detailed requirements for all tertiary education organisations operating under Level 3 restrictions.

“While these restrictions allow for more flexibility in on-campus activities compared to Level 4, it is clear that such activities are still severely limited, and only allowable as exceptions.”

The ministry requirements say that university management support staff, such as finance and human resources, should “work remotely, wherever possible, but are allowed to meet and work on-site if necessary, provided physical distancing requirements are met”.

A statement by Lincoln University says its campus will remain closed “with restricted access only” and online courses will continue throughout May.

Victoria University of Wellington says all research students must continue to work from home.

“Under the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, you must not come to the university. Talk with your supervisor and make a plan for continuing your research from home,” a university statement says.

“If you can no longer conduct field work, talk with your supervisor about how you can refocus your research. Work together to make a plan B that leads to a successful thesis, even if the research may look different from your original plan.”