A recruitment agency has called for a halt on hiring overseas teachers because of the risk of bringing in more coronavirus cases.
Talk Recruitment managing director Mike Jones has written to Education Minister Chris Hipkins urging a "temporary suspension" of a Ministry of Education campaign to recruit overseas teachers for NZ schools and preschools.
He says his own company, founded six months ago, has stopped recruiting any overseas teachers "due to the uncertainty around the coronavirus".
"We think it prudent that the movement of teachers from Asia and Europe are temporarily suspended to prevent risk to early childhood education and school communities and children," he said.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid rejected the call.
"We are not looking to suspend the overseas recruitment campaign at this time but will continue to monitor the situation closely and follow Ministry of Health advice on Covid-19," she said.
Other sector leaders warned that fear of travelling during the coronavirus outbreak might deter overseas teachers from coming to New Zealand anyway.
Dr Sarah Alexander of the early childhood lobby group Child Forum said most people wanted to stay close to family and friends in emergencies.
"When something like this happens, people typically might curtail their travel and want to stay close to their families," she said.
"It does have the potential of overseas teachers saying we are not going to travel to New Zealand now."
Principals Federation president Perry Rush said it was hard to know whether the fear of travelling during the coronavirus epidemic would outweigh a perception that New Zealand might be the safest place to be in a crisis.
"It may well be that people are limiting travel, however it's fair to say that New Zealand is seen as a pretty safe destination in difficult times," he said.
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The Government announced a drive in 2018 to recruit 900 overseas teachers to fill gaps in NZ schools, and by January this year the ministry said it had approved 868 relocation grants for foreign teachers and returning New Zealanders since late 2017.
The ministry also let two contracts late last year to recruitment agencies Randstad and Education Personnel for each agency to recruit up to 150 overseas teachers for early childhood education (ECE) with relocation grants by June 30 this year.
MacGregor-Reid said on February 18 that 16 overseas ECE teachers had applied for relocation grants so far and 267 overseas ECE teachers were "available for interview by early childhood services".
The teacher shortage appeared to have eased when the school year opened with only 370 teaching vacancies in schools.
However vacancies listed in the Education Gazette have risen to 525 in schools plus 462 in early childhood centres, as schools and centres struggle to cope with rising rolls and to "backfill" jobs of teachers who have taken other positions.
Rush said it was important not to become "hysterical" and he saw no need to stop recruiting overseas teachers, or to close schools as Japan has.
"We have been advised to be cautious about people coming form China and Iran, but most teachers coming to New Zealand are not from either of those countries," he said.
Education Personnel managing director Stuart Birch said no teacher had pulled out of coming to New Zealand due to coronavirus yet.
"There is a risk with every person that enters the country, but there is also risk in not having enough teachers in the right places," he said.
Jones said his company was working with a Wellington-based agency, Immigration Centre, which had contact with 150 overseas teachers mainly in Britain and South Africa. However Talk Recruitment has not yet actually recruited any overseas teachers.
As at February 28, the World Health Organisation listed 20 coronavirus cases in Britain but none in South Africa.