New Zealand's Prime Minister says overseas students will still have to wait until next year to come here, despite an Australian pilot scheme to bring in 300 students next month.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the 300 students would be admitted on flights from Singapore to Adelaide starting next month, using spare quarantine capacity in Adelaide.
But NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was still focused on "making sure our system is right" for returning New Zealanders.
The Government asked airlines to stop selling inbound tickets even to returning New Zealanders between July 7 and August 9 to keep the numbers in quarantine below the current capacity of 7292 people.
It is also still struggling to track down the source of the current Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland which has infected 69 people so far. A worker at a quarantine facility at Auckland's Rydges Hotel has also tested positive for Covid today, indicating that the first cluster may not be the only source of community infection.
Ardern told NewstalkZB host Mike Hosking that she would "look at what we can learn" from the Australian pilot scheme, but the Government's position was that foreign students would not be let into New Zealand until next year.
"We haven't ruled out a system in the future where we manage potentially international students even if they are in separate bespoke quarantine facilities," she said.
"We have said, though, that our focus should be on doing that in the new academic year rather than this one, given the work it would need to go into doing that properly."
She noted that the Australian pilot scheme was for "quite a small number".
"We're saying that that's something that we would look to in the new year, it's not something we believe that we should be doing at this point in time because actually most of our demand is still going to make sure our system is right for those New Zealanders."
The Australian move has been controversial, prompting a a backlash from Victorian residents who are locked out of South Australia except for essential travel, and from South Australians with family members who have been unable to get back into the state from overseas.
South Australia's deputy chief public health officer Dr Mike Cusack defended the move, telling the ABC that "people crossing the Victorian border posed a more pressing danger than arrivals by international students".
Trade Minister Birmingham, a senator from South Australia, told the ABC: "South Australia has shown an exceptional ability to manage [quarantine hotels]... [and] is a good market to do this in because there's excess capacity … in quarantine."
NZ educational institutions have been lobbying the Government for months to let them run their own quarantine facilities for students at their own cost, arguing that foreign students would be motivated to obey the rules because breaking them would mean they would have to leave the country.
Universities NZ chief executive Chris Whelan said the sector was waiting for the Ministry of Health to issue standards for quarantine facilities.
"I understand the Ministry of Health is putting out standards some time in August," he said.
"I'd certainly be hoping that our Government is looking at this [Australian move] and seeing what can be learned. We'd love to be able to do it here.
"I've made some discreet inquiries to see if there is anything in the pipeline at this stage, and it's fair to say that, this close to the election, it's probably not the highest priority."
English NZ chair Darren Conway, who represents 22 English language schools, said Auckland's Dominion English Schools went into "hibernation" last week, EF International Language Centre was doing the same next week, and North Shore-based Unique NZ was closing.
"I would think that at least half of the English NZ schools will be in hibernation by the end of the year simply because there are no new students coming in," he said.
Government data shows that 2606 New Zealanders are expected to arrive from overseas in the next week, replacing 2810 people due to move out of quarantine facilities.
A spokesperson for the Government's Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) agency said there was "currently room in the system to safely welcome returning New Zealanders".
"Since July 20 demand has been managed through a two-week rolling allocation system agreed with the airlines to manage returnee numbers at managed isolation facilities to align supply and demand," the agency said.
"In the future, demand will be managed through an allocation system that will allow returnees to indicate when they are arriving, and if they have any specific needs or requirements."
An Air NZ spokeswoman said: "There is no longer a hold on new bookings for international services into New Zealand. We will continue to monitor the situation going forward in order to ensure we comply with the Government's 14 day rolling quota."